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Barnum Brown: The man who discovered Tyrannosaurus rex

Known as the greatest dinosaur collector of all time, Barnum Brown helped the American Museum of Natural History establish its world-class fossil collection. Museum Research Associate Lowell Dingus and Chair of the Division of Paleontology Mark Norell recently traced Brown's extraordinary career from a frontier farm to the world's top fossil sites to the halls of the Museum in the book, Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex. Created by American Museum of Natural History.

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Video transcript

>>LOWELL DINGUS: Barnum Brown was, by all accounts, the best dinosaur collector who ever lived. He began his career here at AMNH in 1897 going out on expeditions to the American West first in search of fossil mammals but of course later with the dinosaur expeditions. He started as a field assistant and worked his way up to be curator in the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, head of all the dinosaur collections. >>MARK NORELL: The majority of specimens that we have on display were collected by him. I mean, he was the one who collected the first Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens. He was the one who collected the Albertosaurus specimens. He was such a popular and important guy during his lifetime that he really, really, really kind of was the museum. >>SPEAKER: Curator Barnum Brown found and brought back many dinosaurs. Here is the head of dreaded Tyrannosaurus. The skeleton of a Pteranodon. >>DINGUS: We'd known for a long time, both Mark and I, that there were 13 boxes of documents and correspondence up in the archives of the Vertebrate Paleontology Department and no one had ever written a comprehensive biography of Barnum before. We felt like, given that it was about a century after his discovery of Tyrannosaurus, it was the right time to celebrate his life. He happened to be born and grow up during the first Bone Rush out into the American West led by Othniel Marsh at Yale and his arch rival E.D. Cope at the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences beginning in the 1870s. >>NORELL: Barnum Brown collected a number of Tyrannosaurus in the Hell Creek Formation in the first decade of the 20th Century. A number of them weren't that complete but they knew that there was this big hypercarnivore which was out there. He found things like, you know, a lower jaw, part of a brain case. Finally he found this specimen, what would become the 5027 Specimen, and the skull, which is still amongst the most beautiful Tyrannosaurus skulls known, was found in one single chert block. >>DINGUS: It was quite a sensation right from the start. From the announcement in the New York Times that they had discovered Tyrannosaurus, there was a full page article about the discovery, and that continued all the way through until they unveiled the mount for the public in the exhibition halls. >>NORELL: He would go out on the road to give lectures and people would flock around his trains when they came. He was one of the sort of early sort of celebrity paleontologists in the sense that he had his own CBS radio show each week which he would talk about things. He was the Dinosaur Consultant for Walt Disney and Shostakovitch for Fantasia. >>DINGUS: I don't think it's too much to say that we all work in his shadow, especially if you're working on dinosaurs. It's not only the fossils that you're probably incorporating into your studies, no matter what kind of dinosaur you're working on, but he was also trained as a geologist at the University of Kansas. And although he didn't take a lot of detailed field notes, he had a very good eye for the stratigraphy, the sequence of rock layers, in the field area where he worked all over the world. No matter how hard you try, especially here at the American Museum, you can never really walk out of Barnum's shadow.