William Temple Hornaday

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William Temple Hornaday

Birthdate: (82)
Birthplace: Avon, Hendricks, Indiana, United States
Death: March 6, 1937 (82)
Stamford, Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Hornaday and Martha Hornaday
Husband of Ellen Hornaday
Father of Helen Ross Fielding

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About William Temple Hornaday


William Temple Hornaday, Sc.D. (December 1, 1854 – March 6, 1937) was an American zoologist, realtor, conservationist, author, poet and songwriter. He revolutionized museum exhibits by displaying wildlife in their natural settings, and is credited with discovering the American crocodile, saving the American bison and the Alaskan fur seal from extinction.


Hornaday was born in Avon, Indiana, and educated at Oskaloosa College, the Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) and in Europe.

He spent 1.5 years, 1877-1878 in India and Ceylon collecting specimens. In May 1878 he reached southeast Asia and traveled in Malaya and Sarawak in Borneo. He served as chief taxidermist of the United States National Museum in 1882–1890. He helped found the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. The Musselshell River region of Montana is where the last surviving herds of wild American buffalo lived. Hornaday, working for the Smithsonian Institution, harvested specimens from the region in 1886 so that future generations would know what the buffalo looked like.

He was appointed director of the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1896 and became president of the Permanent Wild Life Protective Association. He co-founded (with Theodore Roosevelt) the American Bison Society in 1905 and served as its president from 1907 to 1910. He was able to exert some influence which led to the passage of legislation which extended protection to wild birds, game, bison, seals, and wild life in general. Hornaday wrote many magazine articles and books.

Scandal at the Zoo

Dr. Hornaday's tenure as director of the zoo met some controversy in September 1906, when Ota Benga, a pygmy native of the Congo, was placed on display in the monkey house. Benga shot targets with a bow and arrow, wove twine, and wrestled with an orangutan. Although, according to the New York Times, "few expressed audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions,” controversy erupted as black clergymen in the city took great offense. “Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes,” said the Reverend James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn. “We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.” And again in a letter to the zoo, Reverend Gordon remarked, "You people are on top. We have got to rise. Why not let us and not impede us? Why shut up a boy in a cage with chimpanzees to show Negroes akin to apes?

New York Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. refused to meet with the clergymen, drawing the praise of Dr. Hornaday, who wrote to him, “When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.”

As the controversy continued, Hornaday remained unapologetic, insisting that his only intention was to put on an “ethnological exhibit.” In another letter, he said that he and Madison Grant, the secretary of the New York Zoological Society, who ten years later would publish the racist tract “The Passing of the Great Race,” considered it “imperative that the society should not even seem to be dictated to” by the black clergymen.

Still, Hornaday decided to close the exhibit after just two days, and on Monday, September 8, Benga could be found walking the zoo grounds, often followed by a crowd “howling, jeering and yelling." Benga committed suicide in 1916 when his return trip to the Congo was delayed by World War I.

Influence on Scouting

Hornaday had a large impact on the Scouting movement and especially the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Not only is there is a series of conservation awards named after him, but his beliefs and writings are a major reason conservation and ecology have long been an important part of the BSA's program. This awards program was created in 1915 by Dr. Hornaday. He named the award the Wildlife Protection Medal. Its purpose was to challenge Americans to work constructively for wildlife conservation and habitat protection. After his death in 1938, the award was renamed in Dr. Hornaday's honor and became a BSA award.


Hornaday died in Stamford, Connecticut and was buried in Greenwich, Connecticut.


Travel writer Temple Fielding was the grandson of William Temple Hornaday.

In 1938, the National Park Service named a peak, Mount Hornaday, in the Absaroka Range in Yellowstone National Park for him.

Selected books


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William Temple Hornaday's Timeline

December 1, 1854
Avon, Hendricks, Indiana, United States
Age 26
March 6, 1937
Age 82
Stamford, Fairfield, Connecticut, United States