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Cope, E. D. (Edward Drinker), 1840-1897


Biographical Note

Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897) was an early and well-known paleontologist who discovered around one thousand species of extinct vertebrates in the United States and is credited, along with his former friend and rival Othniel Charles Marsh, with discovering the first complete remains of large dinosaurs. They were both the foremost paleontologists of their day, sending back many rare fossils to institutions in New Haven and Philadelphia, and set the groundwork for modern methods and techniques of vertebrate paleontology.

Cope was born into a prominent Philadelphian Quaker family. As a child, he was already making detailed notes about the ichthyosaur on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He had a limited formal education, and had his first paper published at 19. He went on to marry his wife Annie Pim in 1865, and they had their daughter Julia in 1866. His paleontological career took off, with mentorship and funding from Joseph Leidy of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1866, Cope found the remains of the leaping dinosaur Loelaps aquilunguis in New Jersey. This discovery led to him being tied for the credit as the first person to find full large dinosaur remains with Marsh. Cope taught comparative zoology and botany for three years at Haverford College before spending 1867-1889 focusing on his expeditions and research. He was more of an independent worker and traveler, and spent much of his life traveling the world as a paleontologist, becoming an authority in the study of fishes, the study of amphibians and reptiles, and the study of fossil vertebrates. He primarily focused on the western United States, finding fossils of the ram-nosed mosasaur, the sea-serpent elasmosaur, the great amphicoelias, the gigantic camarasaurus, and the frill-necked dinosaur agthaumas. These are just a few of the almost a thousand species of extinct vertebrates that Cope discovered in his career. He worked with the U.S. Geological Survey and was an expert on the Paleogene and Neogene periods. In 1889, an early dinosaur from New Mexico was named Coelophysis by Cope, describing the animal from various parts that had been collected by his field man David Baldwin.

Cope brought Lamarckian evolutionary theory back into fashion through his paleontological lens, supporting the Kinetogenis theory. His religious views were influential upon his perspective on evolution. He was known for his rivalry with Marsh, also known as the Bone Wars—a competition for fossil discovery that led to increased attention to paleontological exploration as well as the collections of the AMNH. However, this competition also led to Cope’s financial downfall. He sold his North American Fossil collection to the Museum in 1895, the same year that he became president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Cope became a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889. In 1897, Henry Fairfield Osborn introduced Charles Robert Knight to Cope, whose discoveries inspired Knight's work depicting dinosaurs as they might have been in life. Notable among these was the Dryptosaurus, in a work titled Leaping Laelaps, painted in 1897. The museum bought his remaining fossil collections after his death, filling out the paleontological collection. AMNH has Cope's diaries, notebooks, and drawings of dinosaurs, among other records.

In his lifetime, Cope published over 1400 scientific articles and is known for writing “Cope’s Rule,” a paleontological concept claiming that “mammalian species tend to increase in size over time” (Brinkman, 2014). Cope’s name is even the origin of the title of the modern Zoology journal Coepia.

Selected Bibliography

Cope, E. D. The Batrachia of North America. Bulletin (United States National Museum), 34. Ashton, Maryland: E. Lundberg, 1963.

Cope, E. D. On the Origin of Genera. Philadelphia: Merrihew and Son, Printers, 1869.

Cope, E. D. On the Zoological Position of Texas. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, No. 17. Washington: Gov., Print., Off, 1880.

Cope, E. D. The Origin of the Fittest : Essays on Evolution. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887.

Cope, E. D, and Open Court Publishing Company. The Primary Factors of Organic Evolution. Chicago: Open Court, 1904.

Cope, E. D. Sketch of the Zoölogy of Ohio. Philadelphia: O.W. Gray, 1873.


Brinkman, P. D. (2014). Cope, Edward drinker (1840--1897). In H. R. Slotten (Ed.), The Oxford encyclopedia of the history of American science, medicine, and technology. Oxford University Press, Inc. Credo Reference:

Cope, E.D., AMNH Authority File,

“Edward Drinker Cope,”

“History of the Paleontology Division,”

Osborn, Henry F. Impressions of Great Naturalists. New York, London: Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, London, 1924.

Rainger, Ronal. An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991.

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

Edward Drinker Cope papers

Identifier: VPA 118
Scope and Contents The Edward Drinker Cope Papers collection is comprised of 9 boxes of documents and materials related to well-known paleontologist and naturalist Edward Drinker Cope. The collection includes letters and correspondence between E.D. Cope and his family and colleagues (a mixture of Xerox copies, typewritten copies, photocopies, and originals), as well as specimen lists, photographs, illustrations, a scrapbook, and Xerox copies of his field diaries. Boxes 1 to 3 contain Xerox copies...
Dates: 1846-1924

Diaries: [microform]

Identifier: Archives Microfilm #36A

Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897)

Identifier: Art Survey No. 502
Dates: Archives state that in June 1931 Osborn ordered a copy of the Couper marble bust of Cope.

Edward Drinker Cope papers, 1846-1897

Identifier: Mss .C67
Scope and Contents Contains chiefly letters written by Cope to his family and correspondence between him and Henry Fairfield Osborn, some illustrated or with newspaper clippings attached. Also included are childhood report cards, a few mss. of his poems and essays (1854), a pamphlet by him entitled "The marriage problem" (1888), shipping notices from expedition sites (1881-1884), and a copy of his will.Box 1. Letters, 1846-1875 -- Box 2. Letters, 1876-1888 -- Box 3. Letters, 1889-1897. Cope-Osborn...
Dates: 1846 - 1897

Letters: [microform]

Identifier: Archives Microfilm #36

Library Tools and Materials

Identifier: Mem 300
Scope and Contents These materials have been loosely grouped based on their nature and function. Their description ma be further refined in the future as more is learned about them. The American Museum of Natural History's Library, established in 1869, aims to foster intellectual growth and support the research, teaching, and educational activities of the Museum. The tools and materials in this grouping were used in the Library's day to day functions that carried this activitie from aproximately...
Dates: Usage: Circa1897-1999