1941 – Barnum Brown floats selling the first T. rex skeleton
On this day in dinosaurs, Barnum Brown mailed the first in a series of letters to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History that would prompt one of the most infamous dinosaur sales in history. Brown, sometimes referred to as ‘Mr. Bones,’ was the finest dinosaur hunter of his day–and perhaps of any era. Most of the skeletons on display in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History were discovered by him, and he unearthed the first two specimens of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.
Brown’s first letter concerning the Tyrannosaurus (which you can read here) mentions Christmas discussions held with representatives from the Carnegie Museum who were visiting New York and were keen on purchasing the rex. Brown refers to the matter as “very important” and seems intent on letting one of his most legendary finds move to Pittsburgh.
For decades, dinosaur lore maintained that the skeleton was sold because the American Museum feared New York City would be bombed during World War II and paleontologists wanted a carnosaur-insurance policy so that the species would not be blasted into oblivion. It is clear from the correspondence made available by the Carnegie Museum that the move was financially motivated. This decision must be easier when you have a surplus ‘tyrant lizard king’ to spare.
The staff at the AMNH dreamed of mounting both skeletons, locked in battle. As we will see, the Carnegie Museum would ultimately create the visions dreamt up in New York a century earlier. Throughout this year, we’ll be following the letters and negotiations between the two famous institutions as the first T. rex makes its move to the Steel City.