Henry Fairfield Osborn

henry fairfield osborn
Henry Fairfield Osborn.

Name:

Henry Fairfield Osborn

Born/Died:

1857-1935

Nationality:

American

Dinosaurs Named:

Tyrannosaurus Rex, Pentaceratops, Ornitholestes, Velociraptor

 

About Henry Fairfield Osborn

Like many successful scientists, Henry Fairfield Osborn was fortunate in his mentor: the famous American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who inspired Osborn to make some of the greatest fossil discoveries of the early 20th century.

As part of the U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado and Wyoming, Osborn unearthed such famous dinosaurs as Pentaceratops and Ornitholestes, and (from his vantage point as president of the American Museum of Natural History in New York) was responsible for naming both Tyrannosaurus Rex (which had been discovered by museum employee Barnum Brown) and Velociraptor, which had discovered by another museum employee, Roy Chapman Andrews.

In retrospect, Henry Fairfield Osborn had more of an impact on natural history museums than he did on paleontology; as one biographer says, he was a "first-rate science administrator and a third-rate scientist." During his tenure at the American Museum of Natural History, Osborn spearheaded innovative visual displays designed to attract the general public (witness the dozens of "habitat dioramas" featuring realistic-looking prehistoric animals, which can still be seen in the museum today), and thanks to his efforts the AMNH remains the premier dinosaur destination in the world.

At the time, however, many museum scientists were unhappy with Osborn's efforts, believing that money spent on displays could be better spent on continuing research.

Away from his fossil expeditions and his museum, unfortunately, Osborn had a darker side. Like many affluent, educated, white Americans of the early 20th century, he was a firm believer in eugenics (the use of selective breeding to weed out "less desirable" races), to the extent that he imposed his prejudices on some museum galleries, misleading an entire generation of children (for example, Osborn refused to believe that the distant ancestors of humans resembled apes more than they did Homo sapiens).

 Perhaps more oddly, Osborn never quite came to terms with the theory of evolution, preferring the semi-mystical doctrine of orthogenetics (the belief that life is driven to increasing complexity by a mysterious force, and not the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection).