Posts tagged ‘fossil collector’

Charles H. Sternberg–Early Fossil Collector

Charles H. Sternberg was born in 1850 in New York State. As a young boy he picked up fossils he found while roaming the hills, and although he knew little about them, he found them fascinating.

When he was a teenager, his family moved west, first to Iowa, and then to the plains of Kansas. His oldest brother George was a doctor with the army and was stationed at Fort Harker, in Kansas, one of the many forts built as the rail lines and people moved into the Great Plains. Charles eventually moved to his brother’s Kansas farm to help with the household.

And he continued his interest in fossils. Since his brother George was a doctor, he was the closest thing to a man of science in the area, and George encouraged his younger brother’s collecting. Charles amassed a very large collection of fossil leaves from the Dakota Formation, and his brother arranged to have them shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D. C. (Here is more information about formations in general.)

Charles received no payment, but a simple letter of acknowledgment was enough to light the fire under him to continue collecting. He was driven by a passion to collect fossils for science, to better understand the lost and murky world of prehistory that was just then coming into focus.

In a desperate attempt to enter the world of fossil collecting, he wrote to Edward Cope in Philadelphia, asking if Cope would support him while he collected fossils. Cope was well-known as a paleontologist, and he was eager to expand his collection of fossils from the newly opened west. Cope was also wealthy enough to afford it, so on the basis of Charles’ letter alone, Cope sent him $300, a huge sum of money.

In those early days, documenting the exact location of the fossil finds was less important than it is today. If only he had a handheld GPS along with him while he collected, the additional information would be invaluable to us today. Alas, he would have marveled at such a thing. Sternberg collected fossils his whole life, with it being almost his sole source of income to raise his family. He tromped through the American and Canadian west collecting fossils for every major museum, and science owes much to this man for his passion.

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