Othniel Charles Marsh

Othniel Charles Marsh
Othniel Charles Marsh

Born October 29, 1831(1831-10-29)
Lockport, New York, USA
Died March 18, 1899(1899-03-18) (aged 67)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Nationality United States
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater Yale College
University of Heidelberg

Othniel Charles Marsh (October 29, 1831 – March 18, 1899) was an American paleontologist. Marsh was one of the preeminent scientists in the field; the discovery or description of dozens of news species and theories on the origins of birds are among his legacies.

Born into a modest family, Marsh was able to afford higher education thanks to the generosity of his wealthy uncle George Peabody. After graduating from Yale College in 1860 he traveled the world studying anatomy, mineralogy and geology. He obtained a teaching position at Yale upon his return. From the 1870s to 1890s he competed with rival paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope in a period of frenzied Western American prospecting now known as the Bone Wars.

In later years Marsh suffered from financial troubles. He died on March 18, 1899.



Early life

Marsh was born in Lockport, New York, United States, to a family of modest means. However, he was the nephew of the very wealthy banker and philanthropist, George Peabody. He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover in 1856 and Yale College in 1860.[1] He later studied geology and mineralogy in the Sheffield Scientific School, New Haven, and afterwards paleontology and anatomy in Berlin, Heidelberg and Breslau. He returned to the United States in 1866 and was appointed professor of vertebrate paleontology at Yale University. He persuaded his uncle George Peabody to establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale.


Othniel C. Marsh and 'Red Cloud' pictured in New Haven, Connecticut, c. 1880

Marsh and his many fossil hunters were able to uncover about 500 new species of fossil animals, which were all named later by Marsh himself. In May 1871, Marsh uncovered the first pterosaur fossils found in America. He also found early horses, flying reptiles, the Cretaceous and Jurassic dinosaurs; Apatosaurus and Allosaurus, and described the toothed birds of the Cretaceous; Ichthyornis and Hesperornis.

Marsh is also known for the so-called "Bone Wars" waged against Edward Drinker Cope. The two men were fiercely competitive, discovering and documenting more than 120 new species of dinosaur between them. Marsh eventually won the Bone Wars by finding 80 new species of dinosaur, while Cope only found 56. Cope did not take this lightly, and the two fought within scientific journals for many years to come, rumored to be at the expense of recognized scientific method.


Marsh died on March 18, 1899.[1] He was interred at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.


Othniel Marsh (center, back row) and assistants ready for digging.

Marsh named the following dinosaur genera: Allosaurus (1877), Ammosaurus (1890), Anchisaurus (1885), Apatosaurus (1877), Atlantosaurus (1877), Barosaurus (1890), Camptosaurus (1885), Ceratops (1888), Ceratosaurus (1884), Claosaurus (1890), Coelurus (1879), Creosaurus (1878), Diplodocus (1878), Diracodon (1881), Dryosaurus (1894), Dryptosaurus (1877), Labrosaurus (1896), Laosaurus (1878), Nanosaurus (1877), Nodosaurus (1889), Ornithomimus (1890), Pleurocoelus (1891), Pricondon (1888), Stegosaurus (1877), Torosaurus (1891), Triceratops (1889), Tripriodon (1889). He named the suborders Ceratopsia (1890), Ceratosauria (1884), Ornithopoda (1881), Stegosauria (1877), and Theropoda. He also named the families Allosauridae (1878), Anchisauridae (1885), Camptosauridae (1885), Ceratopsidae (1890), Ceratosauridae, Coeluridae, Diplodocidae (1884), Dryptosauridae (1890), Nodosauridae (1890), Ornithomimidae (1890), Plateosauridae (1895), and Stegosauridae (1880). He also named many individual species of dinosaurs. The dinosaur Othnielia was named in 1977 by P. Galton as a tribute to Marsh, as was Marshosaurus bicentesmus (Madsen, 1976).

Marsh's finds formed the original core of the collection of Yale's Peabody Museum. The museum's Great Hall is dominated by the first fossil skeleton of Apatosaurus that he discovered (but called "Brontosaurus").

He donated his home in New Haven, Connecticut, to Yale University in 1899. The Othniel C. Marsh House, now known as Marsh Hall, is designated a National Historic Landmark. The grounds are now known as the Marsh Botanical Garden.


  1. ^ a b "Professor Marsh is Dead. The World-Famous Geologist Succumbs to Pneumonia. Chair of Paleontology Founded for Him. Caused the Establishment of Peabody Museum". New York Times. March 19, 1899. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9806E5D91730E132A2575AC1A9659C94689ED7CF. Retrieved 2010-07-28. "Othniel C. Marsh, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D., professor of paleontology at Yale University, curator of the geological collection at the same institution, ..." 

Further reading

  • University of California Museum of Paleontology. "Othniel Charles Marsh (1832-1899)". UC Berkeley. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/marsh.html. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  • "Othniel Charles Marsh (1831-1899)". Lefalophodon. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/~alroy/lefa/Marsh.html. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  • The Scientific Contributions of Othniel Charles Marsh: Birds, Bones, and Brontotheres (Peabody Museum of Natural History Special Publication No 15) (Paperback) by Mark J. McCarren
  • Jaffe, Mark (2000). The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science. New York: Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 0517707608. 
  • Lanham, Url (1973). The Bone Hunters. New York and London: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231031521. 
  • Wilford, John Noble (1985). The Riddle of the Dinosaur. New York: Knopf Publishing. ISBN 039474392X. 

External links

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Marsh, Othniel Charles". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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