January 23rd

1869 – Happy Birthday Elmer Riggs

After a brief stint with an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History in 1896, Elmer S. Riggs joined the staff of the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum) in Chicago.

Formal portrait of Elmer S. Riggs ca. 1901.
Formal portrait of Elmer S. Riggs ca. 1901. / Expedition Live

Riggs became  best known for the discovery of Brachiosaurus altithorax, what became the largest dinosaur known in its day.  He also brought a beautiful specimen of Apatosaurus to Chicago, and you can still see both on display in the Windy City today. The sites where they were discovered are just outside Fruita, Colorado and are marked by historical plaques.

Today, Riggs is perhaps best known as the man who made one of the gravest nomenclatural transgressions in dinosaur paleontology–he’s responsible for classifying Brontosaurus as Apatosaurus and sinking one of the greatest prehistoric names of all time. But recent analysis has found sufficient differences between the two animals and Brontosaurus is back. So we’ll let that one slide, Elmer.

In the 1920s, Riggs traveled to Canada, Argentina, and Bolivia searching for display-quality fossils. He collected more dinosaur remains, along with an assortment of fossil mammals from South America.

Elmer S. Riggs
Riggs examines one of his specimens from South America ca. 1930. Field Museum neg. #GEO79214.

Riggs retired in 1942, after serving the Field Museum for more than 40 years. He died at the ripe age of 94 in Kansas, where he had spent much of his youth and where he was still volunteering his time to advance the science of paleontology.

Have you visited the Field Museum or the places where Riggs made his big discoveries? Share your favorite Riggs dinosaur photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.