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Henry Fairfield Osborn

Henry Fairfield Osborn
Photo from 1919
Born August 8, 1857
Fairfield, Connecticut
Died November 6, 1935
Alma mater Princeton University
Known for geology
Children Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr.
Relatives William Church Osborn, brother
Awards Cullum Geographical Medal (1919)
Wollaston Medal (1926)
Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal (1929)
Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. ForMemRS[1]

(August 8, 1857 – November 6, 1935) was an American geologist, paleontologist, and eugenist, and the president of the American Museum of Natural History for 25 years.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Theories 2
    • Dawn Man Theory 2.1
    • Aristogenesis 2.2
  • Published books 3
  • References 4
    • Works cited 4.1
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Early life and career

Osborn in 1890

Son of the prominent railroad tycoon

  • Bibliography of the published writings of Henry Fairfield Osborn for the years 1877-1915
  • Brief essay on Osborn's racial theories
  • brief biographical sketch
  • Works by Henry Fairfield Osborn at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Henry Fairfield Osborn at Internet Archive
  • Works by Henry Fairfield Osborn at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

External links

  • Rainger, Ronald (2004). An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935. University of Alabama Press.  
  • Regal, Brian (2002). Henry Fairfield Osborn: race, and the search for the origins of man. Ashgate.  
  • Robertson, Thomas, “Total War and the Total Environment: Fairfield Osborn, William Vogt, and the Birth of Global Ecology,” Environmental History, 17 (April 2012), 336–64.
  • Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. University of Vermont Press. was a friend and collaborator of Osborn) Madison Grant ( 
  • National Academy of Sciences: Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857 - 1935), by William K. Gregory, 1937

Further reading

  • Angell, JR (1942). "Unveiling of the Bust of Henry Fairfield Osborn at the American Museum of Natural History.".  
  • Gregory, WK (1942). "Unveiling of the Bust of Henry Fairfield Osborn at the American Museum of Natural History".  
  • Larsson, H.C.E., 2001. Endocranial Anatomy of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. In D.H. Tanke & K. Carpenter (eds.), Mesozoic Vertebrate Life: pp. 19–33.
  • Rainger, R (1980). "The Henry Fairfield Osborn Papers at the American Museum of Natural History". The Mendel newsletter; archival resources for the history of genetics & allied sciences (18) (Jun 1980). pp. 8–13.  

Works cited

  1. ^ Woodward, A. S. (1936). "Henry Fairfield Osborn. 1857-1935".  
  2. ^ "After Twenty Years:The Record of the Class of 1877", Princeton University, 1877–1897, p. 72. Trenton, N. J. 189.
  3. ^ "Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857–1935)", Hervey W. Shimer, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 72, No. 10, May, 1938, pp. 377–379.
  4. ^ "Archives of the Boone and Crockett Club". 
  5. ^ Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1857-1935 by William K. Gregory
  6. ^ "Introduction," in Larsson (2001). Pg. 20.
  7. ^ "Abstract," in Larsson (2001). Pg. 19.
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter O" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  10. ^ See Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1935 (Tuscaloose, AB: University of Alabama, 1991).
  11. ^ On the American Museum's habitat dioramas, see Karen Wonders. Habitat Dioramas, (Figura Nova Series 25: Acta Universitatis Uppsaliensis, 1993).
  12. ^ Victoria Cain, "The Art of Authority: Exhibits, Exhibit Makers and the Contest for Scientific Status at the American Museum of Natural History, 1920–1940." Science in Context 24, no. 2 (2011).
  13. ^ Donna Haraway, "Teddy Bear Patriarchy," Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science. (New York: Routledge, 1989). Also see Constance Clark, God – or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) and Victoria Cain, "The Direct Medium of the Vision": Visual Education, Virtual Witnessing and the Prehistoric Past at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1923." Journal of Visual Culture vol. 10, no. 3 (2010).
  14. ^ "Recent Discoveries Relating to the Origin and Antiquity of Man", Henry Fairfield Osborn, Science, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 1690, May 20, 1927, pp. 481–488.
  15. ^ "Man was Never an Ape", Popular Science, 1927, Aug 1927, Vol. 111, No. 2, p. 35.
  16. ^ "The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans", Christopher Beard, University of California Press, 2006.
  17. ^ "Human evolution: an illustrated introduction", Roger Lewin, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005, p. 15.
  18. ^ Bones of contention, Roger Lewin, University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 56-57.
  19. ^ Lewin, 1997, p. 56.
  20. ^ Lewin, 1997, p. 57.
  21. ^ Suid-Afrikaanse joernaal van wetenskap, Volume 76, South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1981, p. 78
  22. ^ Biological abstracts, Volume 9, Part 1, BioSciences Information Service of Biological Abstracts, 1935, p. 1
  23. ^ Proceedings of the American philosophical society held at Philadelphia for promoting useful knowledge, Volumes 73–74, American Philosophical Society, 1934, p. 152


  • From the Greeks to Darwin: an outline of the development of the evolution idea (1894)
  • The Origin and Evolution of Life (1916)
  • Men of the Old Stone Age (1916)
  • The Age of Mammals in Europe, Asia and North America (1921)
  • Evolution and Religion (1923)
  • Man Rises to Parnassus', Critical Epochs in the Pre-History of Man (1927)
  • Aristogenesis, the creative principle in the origin of species (1934)
  • Evolution of Mammalian Molar Teeth: To and From the Triangular Type (1907)

Published books

Osborn was a believer in Orthogenesis, he coined the term "Aristogenesis" for his theory. Osborn described Aristogenesis as "a creative principle causing the [evolutionary] development towards a certain end".[21] According to Osborn Aristogenesis was a mysterious factor in evolution, an intelligent agency and creative principle, with the ultimate outcome of evolution being the production of mankind.[22][23]


While believing in common ancestry between man and ape, Osborn denied that this ancestor was ape-like. The common ancestor between man and ape Osborn always maintained was more Human than ape. Writing to Arthur Keith in 1927, he remarked "when our Oligocene ancestor is found it will not be an ape, but it will be surprisingly pro-human".[19] His student William K. Gregory called Osborn's idiosyncratic view on man's origins as a form of "Parallel Evolution" but many creationists misinterpreted Osborn, greatly frustrating him, and believed he was asserting man had never evolved from a lower life form.[20]

"We have all borne with the ape and monkey and ape hypothesis long enough are we are glad to welcome this new idea of the aristocracy of man back to a even remote period than the beginning of the stone age."[18]

Osborn developed his own evolution theory of man's origins called the "Dawn Man Theory". His theory was founded on the discovery of Piltdown Man (Eanthropus) which was dated to the Late (Upper) Pliocene. Writing before Piltdown was exposed as a hoax, the Eanthropus or "Dawn Man" Osborn maintained sprang from a common ancestor with the ape during the Oligocene period which he believed developed entirely separately during the Miocene (16 million years ago). Therefore, Osborn argued that all apes (Simia) following the pre-Darwinian classification of Linnaeus had evolved entirely parallel to the ancestors of man (homo).[14][15][16][17] Osborn himself wrote:

Dawn Man Theory


His legacy at the American Museum has proved more enduring. Biographer Ronald Rainger has described Osborn as "a first-rate science administrator and a third-rate scientist."[10] Indeed, Osborn's greatest contributions to science ultimately lay in his efforts to popularize it through visual means. At his urging, staff members at the American Museum of Natural History invested new energy in display, and the museum became one of the pre-eminent sites for exhibition in the early twentieth century as a result. The murals, habitat dioramas, and dinosaur mounts executed during his tenure at the museum attracted millions of visitors, and inspired other museums to imitate his innovations.[11] But his decision to invest heavily in exhibition also alienated certain members of the scientific community and angered curators hoping to spend more time on their own research.[12] Additionally, his efforts to imbue the museum’s exhibits and educational programs with his own racist and eugenist beliefs disturbed many of his contemporaries and have marred his legacy.[13]

Long a member of the US Geological Survey, Osborn became its senior vertebrate paleontologist in 1924. He led many fossil-hunting expeditions into the American Southwest, starting with his first to Colorado and Wyoming in 1877. Osborn conducted research on Tyrannosaurus brains by cutting open fossilized braincases with a diamond saw.[6] (Modern researchers use computed tomography scans and 3D reconstruction software to visualize the interior of dinosaur endocrania without damaging valuable specimens.)[7] He accumulated a number of prizes for his work in paleontology. In 1901, Osborn was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[8] He described and named Ornitholestes in 1903, Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905, Pentaceratops in 1923, and Velociraptor in 1924. In 1929 Osborn was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[9] Despite his considerable scientific stature during the 1900s and 1910s, Osborn's scientific achievements have not held up well, for they were undermined by ongoing efforts to bend scientific findings to fit his own racist and eugenist viewpoints.

Osborn (third from the right) with other officers of the paleontology section of the St Louis Congress

from 1909 to 1925. New York Zoological Society Additionally, Osborn served as President of the [5] collections in the world.fossil as the president of the museum's Board of Trustees in 1908, serving until 1933, during which time he accumulated one of the finest Morris K. Jesup Thanks to his considerable family wealth and personal connections, he succeeded [4]

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