February 12th

1873 – Barnum Brown Born

When it comes to Barnum Brown and his fossil collecting, no grandiose words seem sufficient. Brown was a colorful character in all aspects of his life–he gambled, drank, smoked, womanized, and was always dressed to impress, even in the field. He discovered fossil animals in localities all over the world and even spied for the U.S. government. He worked for the American Museum of Natural History for 66 years and became known as ‘Mr. Bones.’

Barnum Brown, wearing a fur coat in the field., circa 1914
Barnum Brown, wearing a fur coat in the field., circa 1914 / AMNH

Brown is best known for discovering the first Tyrannosaurus rex, and he went on to discover several more specimens of the most famous dinosaur of them all. But Brown is single-handedly responsible for most of the AMNH’s legendary dinosaur displays. One of Brown’s successors, Edwin H. Colbert, noted that of the 36 dinosaurs in the Museum’s “Tyrannosaur Hall,” Barnum had collected 27. Colbert called the feat “an unsurpassed achievement.” In today’s fossil halls, 57 of the creatures on display were unearthed by Barnum Brown.

Brown and his T. rex
Brown and his T. rex / AMNH

Brown was also an expert in public outreach. He hosted a CBS radio program about ancient life, was instrumental in the creation of the Dinoland pavilion at the World’s Fair, and consulted with Walt Disney for the famous animated dinosaur sequence in Fantasia.

Barnum Brown
Discover Magazine

To attempt to sum up his life and achievements in a blog post, or even a book, is difficult, and that he died at ninety years old while planning a fossil-collecting trip to the Isle of Wight says more than most accounts of him.  Barnum Brown will always be a major figure in the history of American dinosaur paleontology, and to many he is simply the greatest dinosaur hunter who ever lived.

Learn more about Brown with this video from the American Museum of Natural History:

Share photos with your favorite Barnum Brown specimens on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.