Barnum Brown, Dinosaur Hunter

Did you know the greatest dinosaur hunter was from our own backyard?

How do seashells end up in a Kansas hillside, 650 miles from the nearest ocean? This question puzzled young Barnum Brown, as he collected fossilized sea life on his parents' homestead in Carbondale, Kansas. As his collection of fossils, arrowheads, and other artifacts grew, so did his insatiable curiosity. He studied geology at the University of Kansas. 

When he was 21, Brown went on his first expedition to South Dakota. Among their thrilling finds: huge extinct mammals and the skull of a Mosasaur, a marine reptile from the Cretaceous period. The following year, the team dug up a Triceratops in Wyoming. By then, Brown was hooked on fieldwork. 

With perfect timing, Brown joined the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in 1896--just as it was launching its first fossil-collecting expeditions. The museum aimed to build a collection to rival world leaders, Yale University and the British Museum. And quickly! Brown's own ambition matched his employer's.

Sponsored by AMNH, Brown scoured the world in search of any fossil of scientific value. He struck gold in 1902 on a trip to the Hell Creek Formation in Southeastern Montana. It was here that he discovered the first documented remains of one of paleontology's most famous subjects: Tyrannosaurus rex. In total, Brown found five partial T. rex skeletons throughout his life, two of which were combined to form the famous AMNH 5027 cast of the dinosaur. T. rex would be his largest contribution to the field of paleontology, but he would continue to define the field for the rest of his life. 

He spent over six decades at AMNH, leading dozens of expeditions and filling the halls of extinct mammals and reptiles with beautiful specimens and dramatic exhibits. Brown eventually became curator of the vertebrate paleontology department--an unusually senior role for someone who never finished graduate school. But even without an advanced degree, Brown's contribution to science was great.