Today, The Field Museum is renowned for its dinosaurs, including Sue, the largest and most complete T.rex discovered. When you walk through Dinosaur Hall in Evolving Planet, be sure to visit to Parasaurolophus and listen to the sound it makes. Visitors to the 1893 World’s Fair would have had the opportunity to see a dinosaur in the same Family as Parasaurolophus, but it looked very different. Although only one dinosaur was in attendance at the World’s Fair in 1893, a mounted plaster cast of Hadrosaurus foulkii, visitors were seeing a significant dinosaur in the history of paleontology.
Hadrosaurus foulkii… first hadrosaur named, the first mounted dinosaur skeleton for public display, and the holotype for Hadrosaurus foulkii! In 1858, William Parker Foulke and Joseph Leidy discovered the bones in southern New Jersey and donated them to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA. In 1868 it was mounted and put on display there. Like most dinosaur fossils, the skeleton was incomplete. Not having a complete hadrosaur on which to base the reconstruction of these missing bones, which included the entire skull and jaws, they created an upright, biped skeleton. Englishman Waterhouse Hawkins created the mount for the specimen, and when this first mounted dinosaur skeleton was unveiled it caused an overwhelming response from the public, so overwhelming that the Academy eventually had to move to a new, bigger building. Nearly 40 years later, a mounted cast of H. foulkii was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair. It was then purchased along with the rest of the Wards Natural Science Establishment paleontology exhibit and put on display at the Field Columbian Museum (later renamed the Field Museum of Natural History). Today, the real bones are still in the collections of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, now renamed the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Later research has shown that the mounted Hadrosaurus skeleton had some mistakes. Not only were the missing bones incorrectly restored, but the pose of the skeleton was wrong. Hadrosaurus did not use its tail as support in addition to its legs. See the image below of how the pose of Hadrosaurus has changed throughout time. Since the skull was missing, the skeleton’s head was erroneously based on a lizard. It was only later that Hadrosaurus took its place as the “duckbilled” dinosaur we recognize today.
Paleontology has come a long way since Hadrosaurus was first displayed. When Hadrosaurus was discovered, the word “dinosaur” was less than 20 years old. To our modern eyes, the original skeleton looks exceedingly different than the updated skeleton, but impressive given the fact that there was nothing to compare it to. The Hadrosaurus bones could have been passed off as a dragon or giant, as cultures had done in past centuries, but instead, they took the route of scientific discovery. Today, The Field Museum continues this route of scientific discovery, but rest assured that the dinosaurs you see displayed are based on research, not imagination and lizard skulls.
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Photo: © The Field Museum, CSGEO2978