Henry Fairfield Osborn

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Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935) "was the leader of the American Museum of Natural History for a quarter of a century, and to him must go the lion's share of the credit for its movement into the limelight during that period as the world's top such institution. Osborn was also a professor at Columbia and head of the vertebrate paleontology department at the AMNH for many years. Further, he was a world-renowned vertebrate paleontologist who published nearly a thousand works and well over ten thousand pages of writings. Osborn had a bent for theorizing, especially when it came to evolution: he was not a fan of natural selection, preferring to recognize various "laws," mostly of morphological trends, that were based on his paleontological investigations. At the same time, he distrusted experimental approaches, or the advances being made in genetics. He was not considered a good taxonomist (many of the names he applied have since been overturned), and had some strange views in the direction of eugenics. Still, for all these foibles he was a force to be reckoned with, both as a synthesizer of information and popularizer of same, and as a progressive administrator." [1]

His son was Fairfield Osborn.

Life Chronology [2]

  • born in Fairfield, Connecticut, on 8 August 1857.
  • 1873: enters Princeton University
  • 1877: A.B., Princeton University
  • 1877, 1878: takes part in field expeditions to Wyoming; meets E. D. Cope
  • 1879-1880: studies at Cambridge University under Huxley and Balfour; meets Darwin
  • 1881: Sc.D., Princeton University
  • 1881-1890: assistant professor of natural sciences and comparative anatomy, Princeton University
  • 1891-1910: Da Costa professor of biology/zoology; curator of the department of vertebrate paleontology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)
  • 1892-1895: dean of the faculty of pure science, Columbia University
  • 1894: publishes his From the Greeks to Darwin
  • 1898-1899: president, New York Academy of Sciences
  • 1908-1933: president, AMNH
  • 1909-1924: president of the New York Zoological Society
  • 1910: publishes his The Age of Mammals in Europe, Asia and North America
  • 1915: publishes his Men of the Old Stone Age
  • 1917: publishes his The Origin and Evolution of Life
  • 1918: receives the Darwin medal of the Royal Society of London
  • 1921: receives the medal of the Pasteur Institute of Paris
  • 1926: awarded the Wollaston medal of the Geological Society of London
  • 1928: president, A.A.A.S.
  • dies at Garrison-on-Hudson, New York, on 6 November 1935.
  • 1936-1942: posthumously publishes his Proboscidea. A Monograph of the Discovery, Evolution, Migration and Extinction of the Mastodonts and Elephants of the World, in two volumes


  • Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn & Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935 (1991).
  • Brian Regal, Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race, and the Search for the Origins of Man (2002). Review


Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Western Kentucky University, accessed October 7, 2008.
  2. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Western Kentucky University, accessed October 7, 2008.