Scientist of the Day - William Hornaday
William Temple Hornaday, an American zoologist and taxidermist, was born Dec. 1, 1854. In 1882, Hornaday was hired by the US National Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, as its chief taxidermist. Hornaday had recently founded the Society of American Taxidermists, and he was a leader of the new school of taxidermy which sought to pose animals in lifelike stances and in dioramas that recreated their natural habitats. The second photo above shows Hornaday (center) in the Smithsonian taxidermy shop. Hornaday noticed that the Museum had only several specimens of the American bison and asked for and was granted permission to lead an expedition out West to collect specimens. Hornaday was appalled to discover that where once there had been plains filled with bison, there were now only bleached skeletons lying on the prairies, with hardly a living animal to be found. Hornaday returned with one live specimen, a calf named Sandy (first image), and a conviction that someone ought to be concerned about preserving living animals, or soon the bison would become extinct.
Hornaday convinced the Smithsonian to establish a "Department of Living Animals" in 1888 and he was able to make several expeditions out west to obtain living bears, deer, lynxes, and several bison. They were originally kept in an outdoor enclosure on the lawn outside the National Museum (third image) and later in the new National Zoo (fourth image). Others began to donate live animals, especially bison. Hornaday became more and more passionate about his cause, and he wrote a book, The Extermination of the American Bison (1889), the publication of which marks the founding of the American conservationist movement.
In 1896, Hornaday left the Smithsonian to become Director of the fledgling New York Zoological Park (later to become the Bronx Zoo). With the help of Theodore Roosevelt, Hornaday established a bison breeding program, founded the American Bison Society, and over the years helped reintroduce bison into areas where they had disappeared, from stock that he built up at the Bronx Zoo. If any one man was responsible for saving the American bison from extinction, that man was Hornaday.
There is a mountain in Yellowstone National Park named for Hornaday. It is no Everest, but it is still a mountain (fifth image).
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.