Othniel Marsh and his students, 1872 (Yale University Archives)

Othniel Marsh and his students, 1872 (Yale University Archives)

Othniel Charles Marsh

OCTOBER 29, 2018

Scientist of the Day - Othniel Charles Marsh

Othniel Charles Marsh, an American paleontologist, was born Oct. 29, 1831.  When the transcontinental railroad was laid through Wyoming in 1869, vast deposits of dinosaur bones were discovered, and Marsh, a professor at Yale, was one of the first to take advantage of the new finds.  The first photo, dated 1872, shows Marsh, surrounded by his students, well prepared for the dangers of the wilderness.  Marsh and his crews discovered and/or named most of the important dinosaurs that were found out West in the 1870s and 1880s, including Stegosaurus (1877; second image), Triceratops (1889), and Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus (1877 and 1879—they turned out to be the same dinosaur; third image).

Marsh’s finds were shipped back on the new railroad to the Peabody Museum at Yale University, which had been endowed by Marsh’s uncle, George Peabody.  The physical building wouldn’t be constructed for some time, but when it was, Marsh’s dinosaurs went on display, and they stand there still today.

The Peabody Museum is a must stop for any dinosaur fan, since it also contains the famous 110-foot-long Age of Reptiles fresco mural, painted by Rudolph Zallinger in 1947.  In the last image here, we can see Marsh’s original Brontosaurus, rearing its head in front of Zallinger’s splendid mural.

We exhibited several of Marsh’s original dinosaur publications in our exhibition, Paper Dinosaurs, where you can see entries on Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, and other dinosaurs not discussed here.

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 ashworthw@umkc.edu.