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HISTORY OF THE DINOSAUR COLLECTION
The Establishment of the Smithsonian Institution | The Start of Dinosaur Research and Collections | The New United States National Museum | Modern Times at the National Museum of Natural History

The Start of Dinosaur Research and Collections


     
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The Start of Dinosaur Research and Collections

The museum's first type specimen, the sauropod Dystrophaeus viaemalaeThe first significant dinosaur fossils added to the museum’s collections were the type specimen of the sauropod Dystrophaeus viaemalae, collected by J. S. Newberry and donated in 1859, and Lower Jurassic dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut Valley, donated in 1861. These fossils were catalogued along with all other vertebrates in the Department of Osteology. It was not until 1887 that the Department of Vertebrate Fossils was established, and given its own catalogue system. The acronym for the “U. S. National Museum” (USNM) became part of our official designation for specimen catalogue numbers, and remains so even though our name has been changed to the National Museum of Natural History.

The honorary head curator of this new department was the famous dinosaur paleontologist O. C. Marsh of Yale University, and he was assisted by Frederic Lucas, who was based in Washington, D.C. Marsh led active field expeditions for both Yale University and the U. S. Geological Survey. During Marsh’s lifetime, these fossils were reposited at Yale, but upon his death in 1899, all the vertebrate fossils he had collected for the government (over 80 tons!) were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. Marsh’s collections include some of the most important dinosaurs known to science, among them our exhibit specimens of Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Camptosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Triceratops, and Edmontosaurus. The “Marsh Collection” still constitutes the largest single dinosaur collection at the Smithsonian.

Preparator Norman H. BossIn 1898, J. W. Coleman was hired as the first full-time preparator of vertebrate fossils. He was joined in 1900 by Alban Stewart. They soon left government service and were replaced by Charles W. Gilmore (1903), Norman H. Boss (1904) , and James W. Gidley (1905). In 1908, Gilmore was promoted to Custodian of Fossil Reptiles, and in 1924 he was again promoted to the rank of Curator. While at the Smithsonian, Gilmore became one of the most renowned vertebrate paleontologists of the twentieth century, and with him Norman Boss mounted most of the museum’s famous dinosaur exhibits.

Curator Charles W. GilmoreGilmore led sixteen dinosaur expeditions during his tenure as Curator, mostly to Wyoming and Utah, and the collections he brought back to the Smithsonian Institution included Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Brachyceratops. He also studied the Marsh Collection extensively, producing important studies of the dinosaurs Camptosaurus, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Thescelosaurus. The first complete, fully mounted dinosaurs to be exhibited by Gilmore and Boss were Edmontosaurus in 1903, followed by Triceratops in 1905, both in the Arts and Industries Building.


 

 

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