Dinosaurs as a Cultural Phenomenon
Fame and Fortune
Right from the beginning some dinosaur sleuths promoted their
discoveries (and themselves) in ways that other fossil hunters did
not (or could not). The anatomist Richard Owen, for example,
featured them in a display at Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851.
For this event, sculptor and master promoter Waterhouse Hawkins
created life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs, which were later
removed to a permanent site in South London. Hawkins's famous dinner
party inside a half-built Iguanodon moved paleontology a
long way towards its modern cultural status.
In 1858, the first articulated skeleton of any dinosaur was found in
a New Jersey clay pit. Waterhouse Hawkins traveled to Philadelphia
to mount the new Hadrosaurus for Joseph Leidy (the leading
paleontologist of the day) and then offered casts of it for sale to
museums around the world. His mounted skeleton caused such a
sensation that the Academy of Natural Sciences instituted admission
charges to limit attendance.
The gentlemanly Leidy (once described as the last man who knew
everything) was soon eclipsed by a group of well-funded
scholar-adventurers who competed bitterly for some 30 years.
Archrivals Othniel Charles Marsh at Yale and Edward Drinker Cope in
Philadelphia collected thousands of fossils, including some 120
different dinosaurs, from the American West.
The story of Cope and Marsh is one of the great sagas of science, at
turns funny, reprehensible and tragic, but there was no doubting
their determination. In 1875, Marsh negotiated with the Black Hills
Sioux for permission to collect on their lands and later became
their advocate in Washington. In 1876, Cope collected specimens in
Montana just a few weeks after the Sioux victory over the U.S. 7th
Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, reckoning that
"since every able-bodied Sioux would be with the braves under
[their chief] Sitting Bull … there would be no danger for
us." Yet neither Cope nor Marsh brought their work to the
public, perhaps because they were too busy collecting and describing
fossils and feuding with each other.