Scientist of the Day - John Bell Hatcher
John Bell Hatcher, an American paleontologist, was born Oct. 11, 1861. In 1888, Hatcher found the first Triceratops skull in Wyoming (second image). He sent the horn core to Othniel Marsh at Yale, the dean of dinosaur exploration in the American west, who had earlier found two similar horn cores, without attached skulls, and thought they belonged to an extinct species of large bison. Hatcher's find changed things dramatically, for evidently he had discovered a new dinosaur. Within three years, Hatcher had found quite a number of Triceratops skulls and lots of associated bones and shipped them back to Marsh; who knows where he stored them, since each skull weighed several tons in its mineralized state.
Marsh denied Hatcher the right to name and describe his finds, reserving that for himself, and after a few years of this enforced servitude, Hatcher departed, first to Princeton, then to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, where he arrived just in time to describe another new dinosaur, Diplodocus carnegiei, in 1901 (which had been discovered by two junior staff members who also did not get to name or describe it). We displayed a drawing of the Diplodocus mount (third image) from Hatcher’s paper in our exhibition, Paper Dinosaurs.
Hatcher suddenly died of typhoid fever in 1904, only 42 years old. Marsh had died in 1899, and many of his specimens went to the U.S. National Museum, including the Triceratops material. In 1904, a skeleton of Triceratops was assembled from the various bones and a majestic skull that Hatcher had collected. The mount was named “Hatcher” in his honor, and it is still called Hatcher today. We see above photos taken in 1904 (first image) and quite recently in the National Museum of Natural History (fourth image). We have lots of photos of Hatcher the dinosaur; the last image above is one of the few photos we have of Hatcher the man.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.