Ok, in keeping with what I said in the previous article (the review of Gerhard Maier’s African Dinosaurs Unearthed), here’s the second of those reviews on “outstanding new volumes ... on the history of Mesozoic dinosaur research and discovery”. Hmm, the first line of my review here is very similar to the first line of my review of Maier’s volume, oh well. Anyway, the book being reviewed this time is Paul Brinkman’s The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush: Museums & Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. As you’ll see, I thought very highly of it. This review originally appeared in Historical Biology and is reproduced here with permission. Why am I publishing these reviews right now? Because I haven’t had time lately to prepare anything new, that’s why.

Anyone who’s ever opened a dinosaur book will be familiar with the ‘bone wars’ of the American west. During the latter decades of the 19th century, Edward D. Cope (1840-1897) and Othniel C. Marsh (1831-1899) competed bitterly in a rush to describe and name Jurassic dinosaurs. Their rivalry was often petty, resulting in a messy literature consisting in part of short, hastily written articles. But while the Cope and Marsh story is fascinating, it’s arguably over-familiar. [Image below by FunkMonk.]

Rather less well known is the historic episode that immediately followed the Cope-Marsh feud, coined the second Jurassic dinosaur rush by American sauropod expert John McIntosh. Extending from 1899 to 1905, this phase saw competition between university and museum teams – in particular, those of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago – as they raced to find display-quality Jurassic sauropods. It is this important but previously little-analysed phase in the history of museum science that forms the focus of Paul D. Brinkman’s excellent and extraordinarily detailed new book. Brinkman is an accomplished science historian, already well known for his fascinating articles on the history of science at American museums and the personalities involved (e.g., Brinkman 2000, 2005). As a historian of science, Brinkman is arguably better placed to discuss the issues of interest here; the fact that most texts on the history of American palaeontology have been written by palaeontologists might explain why so many of them essentially re-hash the same stories and fail to incorporate much new source material.

The Cope-Marsh feud serves as the inevitable background to Brinkman’s analysis. Cope and Marsh’s public feuding, culminating in an 1890 slugging match splattered about the pages of the New York Herald, more or less corresponded with a cessation in Jurassic dinosaur collecting. The intellectual landscape of American vertebrate palaeontology was by now inexorably structured around feelings about, and allegiances with, Cope and Marsh.

The age of open public feuding may have been a thing of the past (Henry Osborn claimed that American vertebrate palaeontology was a “kinder, gentler science” in the post-Cope/Marsh era), but rivalry, ambition and animosity remained important themes. Indeed, Osborn’s ambition to undermine Marsh’s research programme at Yale, his published criticisms of Marsh’s work, and his successful attack on Marsh’s federal funding show that he was hardly neutral or friendly. And some of Osborn’s ideas on dinosaur form and function (his description, for example, of Diplodocus as light-limbed and relatively agile (Osborn 1899)) “had as much to do with contradicting Marsh’s claim … as it did with skeletal anatomy” (Brinkman 2010, p. 230). As Brinkman explains, Osborn’s research programme at the AMNH was, in part, motivated by his desire to overturn Marsh’s published body of work and especially to correct or update the conclusions and reconstructions of Marsh’s 1896 magnum opus The Dinosaurs of North America. Osborn apparently filled a notebook with gossip about Marsh, much of it obtained from William Reed; a habit that recalls Cope’s collection of similar material, dubbed ‘Marshiana’.

Important sociological changes were occurring in the American museum world during the post-Cope-Marsh era of the 1890s and early 1900s. Emphasis shifted during this phase from the entrepreneurial Cope and Marsh to wealthy philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Marshall Field. Inspired by the publicity that surrounded giant sauropods, these men sought not only to increase the educational and recreational opportunities available to the underprivileged, but also to achieve a sort of immortality. Public education came to be increasingly recognised as an important role that museums should play. Museum directors also knew by this time that what has been referred to as the ‘monstrous aesthetic’ caused visitors to flock to museums to see giant objects. The demand for high-quality giant dinosaur specimens suddenly became high and the pressure was on for administrators to employ skilled, hard-working individuals able to find, excavate and ship the specimens now required (and there’s a whole host of reasons why this didn’t occur sooner, one of them being that Marsh questioned the value of mounted dinosaur skeletons).

The story begins in 1895 when university groups set out to collect Jurassic dinosaurs in Wyoming. By the summer of 1899, rival collecting efforts involved the AMNH, Reed’s team from the Carnegie, Wilbur Knight and Charles Gilmore from the University of Wyoming, Elmer Riggs and Harold Menke from the Field, and Samuel Williston’s party from the University of Kansas. Some of the men involved in this race were ambitious upstarts; others were experienced veterans. Understandably, some of this collecting was regarded as a little too close for comfort and Osborn in particular (writing from the comfort of his New York office, of course) pressurised his team to step up their prospecting and collecting. All the teams met with success, and this crucial period resulted in the discovery of numerous Morrison Formation dinosaurs including not only sauropods but allosaurs, the coelurosaur Ornitholestes, camptosaurs and stegosaurs, in addition to Jurassic crocodilians and ichthyosaurs.

Again, Brinkman argues that Osborn’s personal desire to prove Marsh wrong was one motivational factor behind part of this collecting effort. Osborn thought that Marsh’s Atlantosaurus, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were all synonymous with Cope’s Camarasaurus (he regarded it as “a priori improbable that so many different genera of gigantic Saurians of similar size co-existed”; Brinkman 2010, p. 232), and he also thought that Marsh’s famous Brontosaurus excelsus reconstruction [shown below] was incorrect and in need of major revision.

Brinkman follows his highly detailed account of the initial events of Wyoming with those that occurred in Colorado. While making inquiries relevant to his interests in Eocene mammals, Riggs learnt of a previously unexploited rich site near Grand Junction in far western Colorado (very close to Fruita). Accompanied by Menke, he met success with the discovery of a partial Morosaurus; more spectacular, however, was Menke’s discovery in July 1900 of gigantic sauropod bones, some of which were immediately recognised by Riggs as being larger than any then known. Riggs’s initial thinking was that the specimen was ‘just another’ Brontosaurus and he was inclined not to collect it. Fortunately, he changed his mind. The procuring of this specimen (and others) was a major coup for Riggs and for Chicago; Riggs, Menke and their colleagues had been lucky, since Walter Granger from the AMNH had been making plans to explore the same region at the same time. The gigantic sauropod found by Menke became known as Brachiosaurus altithorax, a name bestowed upon it by Riggs in 1903 (Riggs 1901, 1903a).

Additional excavations at Bone Cabin Quarry, Medicine Bow, Black Hills, Piedmont and elsewhere resulted in the procurement of many of the Jurassic sauropods that grace the world’s museums today. The amount of detail that Brinkman provides on these discoveries and the stories behind them is simply vast. William Hatcher’s 1901 monograph on Diplodocus carnegii (Hatcher 1901), the description of the apatosaurine originally described as Elosaurus parvus (Peterson & Gilmore 1901), Osborn and Granger’s study on sauropod limb bones (Osborn & Granger 1901), Rigg’s revision of Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus (Riggs 1903b) and Hatcher’s description of Haplocanthosaurus (Hatcher 1903) all result from discoveries made in this period. Incidentally, Rigg’s argument that Brontosaurus was synonymous with Apatosaurus was never accepted by Osborn, meaning that the name Brontosaurus remained attached to the AMNH exhibits (everybody knows about Gould’s ‘Bully for Brontosaurus’; less well known is that Brinkman published a 2006 article titled ‘Bully for Apatosaurus’). Riggs was surprised, but seemed not to carry the clout required to convince Osborn.

An enormous amount of preparatory work had to be carried out on all the bones that arrived back in Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York. Finding adequate storage space was sometimes a problem and the AMNH definitely led the way: this was due not only to its prior establishment of a successful programme on fossil mammals, but also to its 1899 remodelling of its entire workspace. With electricity, better lighting and ventilation and an overhead trolley system, Osborn’s Department of Vertebrate Paleontology lab served as the model for modern fossil workshops. Finding the staff required to do the preparation work was sometimes difficult, and William Holland’s peculiar pickiness at the Carnegie led him to dismiss some applicants for being “too sullen” or “too raw”! Low wages meant that many staff were dissatisfied and sometimes not especially loyal.

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether the cross words and disputes described throughout this book were the result of personal disagreements or grievances, or represent feelings of competition between the different institutions. Perhaps this is because they were actually a combination of both, as key personnel moved from one institution to another and hence often shifted allegiance. Notably, the disagreements concerned were virtually all behind closed doors and have been revealed via Brinkman’s thorough examination of correspondence; they weren’t thrashed out in public like the preceding Cope-Marsh battles.

Egos and notions of intellectual or academic superiority frequently resulted in disagreements as to who should do what, and who was in charge, in the field. Such differences of opinion and demands of recognition are very much evident from Jacob Wortman’s complaints about Brown, and in Holland’s dealings with Reed, Olaf Peterson and Hatcher during their May 1900 field season. Views about the competition posed by rival institutions ranged from the suspicious, paranoid and concerned to the generous. Wortman, for example, said of Hatcher that he was “exceedingly pleasant … and he gave us much valuable information in regard to localities” (Brinkman 2010, p. 134). Differing views on the vertebral count of some sauropods were mostly dealt with amicably as goes intra-institutional relations, but Hatcher was definitely bothered by Holland’s article on this subject, submitted to Science. After all, Hatcher was under the impression that he had been hired as the dinosaur expert, so his own article in Science on sauropod vertebral formula seemingly served to make the point that “Hatcher, and not Holland, would have the final word on vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum” (Brinkman 2010, p. 142).

Henry Osborn is, without doubt, one of the main characters in this book, and his desire to better the collections of the AMNH, succeed above his rivals and, at times, promote his own ideas and agendas, fuelled his department’s field programme. In part, Osborn’s special interest in Morrison sauropods is also explained by the fact that he inherited the job of completing Marsh’s government-funded sauropod monograph. However, his involvement in so many projects on fossil mammals meant that he was never really able to devote appropriate time to this study and he was simply unwilling to hand it over to another institution. Hatcher at the Carnegie would have been ideal – and Osborn thought very highly of him – but Hatcher was also over-committed on other projects. Indeed, Hatcher died at age 42 from typhus, with a heavy work schedule and insistence on continuing with fieldwork contributing to his ill health. Osborn’s somewhat agenda-driven research interests (he sought to find new fossils that would support his Lamarckian ideas about evolution) are well known, as is the fact that he was hardly able to appreciate or understand the rigours of life in the field. Brinkman describes how Osborn sometimes displayed deference to field conditions, was (rather unintentionally) patronising to his field workers, and generally assumed that things were easier than they were. When he did visit the field, he enjoyed luxuries, easy travel and a light workload.

In the final section of the book, Brinkman discusses how staff at New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago faced the formidable task of mounting the enormous dinosaur skeletons that had been extracted from the ground out west. While these massive projects sometimes took rather longer than expected, and required inventive (and ultimately misleading) reconstruction efforts, they were all undoubted, massive successes in every sense of the term (even if – as at Chicago – the specimens took up so much space that fieldwork on dinosaurs had to be banished for the foreseeable future). Those famous plans to cast the Pittsburgh Diplodocus carnegii skeleton were underway by the winter of 1902; two Italian sculptors were hired in 1903 to create the forelimbs and other missing parts (they were scaled-up copies of the elements of a smaller individual) and Hatcher supervised a test mounting of the first replica in 1904. His early death meant, however, that he never saw its 1905 completion. It was this first specimen that went to London [the official presentation of the specimen to the British Museum (Natural History) is shown in the adjacent photo]. As Brinkman says, it was Carnegie’s audacious plan that helped make dinosaur a household word [Andrew Carnegie shown below].

What does this book do for the field of historical palaeontology in general? It really raises the bar, plumbing an enormous quantity of source material and expertly weaving a story of scientific discovery, egos, personalities and museum politics with that of a changing socioeconomic and academic landscape. Brinkman’s book will serve as an important resource for people interested in the history of Jurassic dinosaur research, in the lives and careers of such fossil hunters and scientists as Wortman, Reed, Osborn, Hatcher, Riggs and so on, in the history of how fossils are represented to the public, and in how American museums were shaped by the personal and political motivations of those behind the scenes.

Detailed source notes and a full bibliography are provided; archive photographs, maps and other illustrations occur throughout. The cover image seems oddly inappropriate: it’s one of a series of illustrations where 19th century versions of dinosaurs (in this case, Owen’s rhino-like ‘Iguanodon’) are shown peering into the windows of multi-storey Parisian houses. But, overall: wow, what a thorough job.

The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush: Museums & Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Paul D. Brinkman, University of Chicago Press, 2010, 345 pp., ISBN 978-0-226-07472-6

This review was published in Historical Biology and appears here with permission. It can be cited as:-

Naish, D. 2011. The second Jurassic dinosaur rush: museums and paleontology in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Historical Biology DOI:10.1080/08912963.2011.614404

For previous Tet Zoo articles on Jurassic sauropods and the history of palaeontology, see...

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Brinkman, P. 2005. Henry Fairfield Osborn and Jurassic dinosaur reconnaissance in the San Juan Basin, along the Colorado-Utah border, 1893–1900. Earth Sciences History 24, 159-174.

Brinkman, P. 2010. The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hatcher, J. B. 1901. Diplodocus Marsh, its osteology, taxonomy and probable habits, with a restoration of the skeleton. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum 1, 1-64.

Hatcher, J. B. 1903. Osteology of Haplocanthosaurus, with description of a new species, and remarks on the probable habits of the Sauropoda and the age and origin of the Atlantosaurus beds. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum 2, 1-72.

Osborn, H. F. 1899. A skeleton of Diplodocus. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History 1, 191-214.

Osborn, H. F. & Granger, W. 1901. Fore and hind limbs of Sauropoda from the Bone Cabin Quarry. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 14, 199-208.

Peterson, O. A. & Gilmore, C. W. 1902. Elosaurus parvus a new genus and species of Sauropoda. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 1, 490-499.

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