Osborn, Henry Fairfield, 1857-1935

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Exist Dates

August 8, 1857 - November 6, 1935

Biographical or Historical Note

Henry Fairfield Osborn was a paleontologist, museum curator and administrator at the American Museum of Natural History. His 45-year career at the museum established it as a leading institution of research and scholarship in the fields of paleontology and evolution. Osborn's interest in paleontology, atypically for his time, derived as much from biology as from geology; in his undergraduate and graduate studies, he concentrated on biology, anatomy, embryology and neurology. In 1891, Osborn began his tenure at the AMNH by organizing and heading the new department of mammalian paleontology, while simultaneously accepting a similar position in biology at Columbia University. The AMNH department, which was eventually renamed vertebrate paleontology, was definitive in the museum's research and mission: the study and teaching of evolution. Osborn began his administrative work in 1899, becoming president in 1908, a position he held for twenty-five years. His strength was in leadership and education rather than empirical science; under his guidance, the museum expanded greatly in physical space and endowment, scientific staff, research and public education. Like his predecessor Albert S. Bickmore, Osborn recognized the need to combine information with entertainment. He popularized paleontology by ensuring that the museum's exhibits did not merely display the researchers' work, but also explained it in an attractive and accessible manner. Osborn, like so many of his contemporaries, was a prolific writer. His attempt to research and publish a definitive record of all the fossil mammals of North America was wildly overambitious, but by the time of his death he had completed substantial works on Equidae, titanotheres, rhinoceroses and Proboscidea, as well as on sauropod dinosaurs; his total publications number 940 (books, monographs, articles and papers), about half devoted to vertebrate paleontology.


    Library of Congress Name Authority File
    From biographical note for Osborn's archive collection at the AMNH Library, Mss .O835, written by Ann Herendeen.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

American Museum of Natural History

Related Resources

Henry Fairfield Osborn papers, 1877-1935 (bulk 1908-1935)
Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .O835
Henry Fairfield Osborn family records, (bulk 1915-1925)
Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .O8351
Henry Fairfield Osborn research papers, circa 1888
Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .O8352
Lucretia Perry Osborn papers, (bulk 1900-1917)
Repository: AMNH Special Collections, Mss .O837

Written by: Iris Lee
Last modified: 2018 October 2


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