Henry Fairfield Osborn

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Henry Fairfield Osborn

Birthdate: (78)
Birthplace: Fairfield, CT, USA
Death: November 6, 1935 (78)
Castle Rock, Garrison-on-Hudson, NY, USA
Place of Burial: Saint Philip's Church Cemetery Garrison Putnam County New York
Immediate Family:

Son of William Henry Osborn and Virginia Reed Osborn (Sturges)
Husband of Lucretia Osborn
Father of Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr.
Brother of William Church Osborn

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About Henry Fairfield Osborn


Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. ForMemRS (August 8, 1857 – November 6, 1935) was an American geologist, paleontologist, and eugenicist.

Early life and career

Osborn was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, 1857, the son of the prominent railroad tycoon William Henry and Virginia Reed Osborn. A famous distant ancestor through his paternal line was Nathaniel Bowditch. He studied at Princeton University (1873-1877) and obtained a B.A. in geology and archaeology. In 1878 Osborn took a special course of study in anatomy in the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Bellevue Medical School of New York under Dr. William H. Welch. Later he studied embryology under Thomas Huxley as well as Francis Maitland Balfour at Cambridge University, England. In 1880, Osborn obtained a Sc.D. in paleontology from Princeton, becoming a Lecturer in Biology and Professor of Comparative Anatomy from at the same university (1883-1890). In 1891 Osborn was hired jointly by Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History, New York. He became Professor of Biology at Columbia University and later became a Professor of zoology in 1896. He was also elected President for the American Society of Naturalists and later the American Association for the Advancement of Science made him one of its Vice Presidents (1894-1896). At the museum he succeeded Morris K. Jesup as president in 1908, serving until 1933, during which time he accumulated one of the finest fossil collections in the world. He assembled a great team of fossil hunters and preparators, which included Roy Chapman Andrews, a gentleman allegedly a possible inspiration for the creation of the fictional archeologist Indiana Jones, and Charles R. Knight, who made murals of dinosaurs in their habitats and sculptures of the living creatures. He was mentored by the paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, whom he met on a fossil-hunting expedition in Wyoming.

Osborn also joined the US Geological Survey in 1900 and became 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, when he met Cope. In 1901, Osborn was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He described and named Ornitholestes in 1903, Tyrannosaurus rex in 1905, the Pentaceratops in 1923, and the Velociraptor in 1924. In 1929 Osborn was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Osborn did research on Tyrannosaurus brains by cutting open fossilized braincases with a diamond saw. Modern researchers use computed tomography scans and 3D reconstruction software to visualize the interior of dinosaur endocrania without damaging valuable specimens.

One critic called Osborn "a first-rate science administrator and a third-rate scientist." William King Gregory described him as "A man of the highest ideals and standards as teacher, investigator and citizen; great in leadership and administration, a man of scrupulous honor, or disarming sincerity and fairness, generously giving credit to all who aided him, respecting the principles of academic freedom in his assistants even when they differed sharply from him."


Dawn Man Theory

Osborn was a critic of Darwinism and instead 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 sprung 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). Osborn himself wrote:

"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."

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". 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.


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". 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.

Published Books

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)
From the Greeks to Darwin: an outline of the development of the evolution idea (1927)
Aristogenesis, the creative principle in the origin of species (1934)

Other References



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

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Henry Fairfield Osborn's Timeline

August 8, 1857
Fairfield, CT, USA
Age 29
November 6, 1935
Age 78
Garrison-on-Hudson, NY, USA
Saint Philip's Church Cemetery Garrison Putnam County New York