Barnum Brown

(1873 -1963)

Back     Site Map

Early life

Sometimes referred to as the real life Indiana Jones, Barnum Brown is arguably one of the greatest palaeontologists of the 20th Century. Named after a famous circus strong man, Brown was born into a farming family, but spent most of his time, not out in the fields, but preferred to spend his time studying, with his main interest lying in Natural sciences. In 1893 he joined Kansas University, and after graduation was employed by the American Natural History Museum.
Fossil discoveries

During his employment with the American Natural History Museum he found many new species of Dinosaur. In 1902 whilst working at the Hell Creek Formation in Montana he uncovered the most important find of his career, and the one that he is now famous for. The Tyrannosaurus rex he dug up however was not the first he actually found. That title should belong to Edward Cope, who in 1892 discovered fragments of two vertebrate belonging to a new species which he named Manospondylus gigas. Similarities between the two species were seen very early on, but due to Cope’s incomplete fossil the link could not be confirmed till 2000 when the rest of the skeleton was dug up. However the name of Tyrannosaurus rex stuck, as it had been used for so long.

Brown didn’t publish many scientific papers, leaving that to the Henry Osborn, who was director of the American Natural History Museum. He did write accounts of his expeditions instead, which made him very popular in the non-scientific community. He was famous and revered for being a rather eccentric character, conducting many digs in full fur coat and top hat. He carried out his digs with the help of dynamite, preferring to blast the quarries in his search for fossils; this produced many finds, but did mean that documenting the location of the find was fairly inaccurate.
During the 1930’s and 1940’s Brown pushed palaeontology further into the popular public domain by developed a working relationship with the Sinclair oil company, who had a diplodocus as their logo. Sinclair oil paid for his digs, and in return Brown wrote pamphlets on Dinosaurs that were given out at the companies’ petrol stations, linking their logo with the public.
The 1910’s saw the second ‘Bone wars’ with Barnum Browns American team competing against a Canadian team consisting of the sons of the famous palaeontologist Charles Stenberg, as they both rafted down the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. This, unlike the bitter fight between Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, was a rather friendly and playful affair, leading to some more important discoveries, primarily that of the track ways of the Albertosuarus, discovered by Brown in 1910. Brown continued to work for the American Natural History Museum, even after he got too old to work in the field, up to his death in 1963.

See also - The Bone Rush of America

References and Further Reading

Bones for Barnum Brown: Adventures of a Dinosaur Hunter by Roland T. Bird, published in 1985.
Dinosaurs in the Attic by Douglas J. Preston
A Triceratops Hunt in Pioneer Wyoming edited by Kohl, Martin and Brinkman
The Reign of the Dinosaurs by Jean-Guy Michard
Hunting Dinosaurs by Louie Psihoyos
The Dinosaur Papers edited by Weishampel and White
Starring T. Rex! by José Luis Sanz

URLs -

Barnum Brown