Special Tercentennial Issue
Distinguished Graduates
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Othniel Charles Marsh

B.A. 1860, M.A. 1862


There is something typically American in the lively, pioneering career of paleontologist O. C. Marsh, a balance between theory and practice, science and adventurethanks to his regular forays across the wide West to collect specimens. His defense of Darwin’s then-new theory of natural selection was based on physical evidenceskeletons of birds with teeth, sequences of horse fossilsthat commanded both scholarly respect and popular fascination in the press. The spoils of his hunting expeditions enliven the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, besides sustaining the cult of the dinosaur in popular entertainment. His was a “show-me” science to which even children can relate.

As the country’s first official vertebrate paleontologist, Marsh spent ten years collecting for the U.S. Geological Survey. Praised by Darwin as well as Thomas Henry Huxley, Marsh pre- sented his research in more than 270 publications, describing nearly 500 species. His work led to the identification and a more precise classification of 80 different dinosaurs, besides producing actual remains of vertebrates like the horned dinocerata and the elephantine brontotheres.

If family wealth and connections helped make Marsh the first curator of the museum at Yale (established by his uncle George Peabody), his own accomplishments more than repaid the favor. The Yale professor of paleontology earned a worldwide reputation, continued to publish tirelessly, and served as president of the National Academy of Sciences.