Exploring Nature in 1914 [Slide Show]

A short trip down the natural history corridor of the Scientific American Archives from a century ago

By Daniel C. Schlenoff

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Jurassic City:

The editors of Scientific American indulged (somewhat apologetically) in a fictional scene about a newly discovered giant dinosaur species (then called Gigantosaurus ) from the Late Jurassic, strolling down Broadway in New York in 1914.....[ More ]

Terror Bird:

Leg-bone fragments collected in Wyoming were described by the prolific (and apparently reprehensible) Robert Shufeldt. His recreation of the species now called Gastornis ajax was based on an African ostrich but we have a different reconstruction these days.....[ More ]

Passenger Pigeons Extinct:

On September 1, 1914, at 1 A.M., the species Ectopistes migratorius became extinct when the last known member died at the Cincinatti Zoo. The body of the bird was photographed (the eye was added to the photograph here) and sent to the Smithsonian Institution to be mounted for display.....[ More ]

Tar-Pit Treasure:

The La Brea asphalt pools in California have been yielding exquisitely preserved fossils since 1874. In this drawing recreating a scene from up to 40,000 years ago, a ground sloth has sunk into the asphalt, its death throes attracting a saber-toothed tiger, which is itself about to sink into the gluey substance.....[ More ]

Flea Model:

The American Museum of Natural History in New York had a scientific artist make a giant model of a flea, 1,728,000 times the size of the insect, from wax.....[ More ]

Flea Modeler:

Ignaz Matausch making a giant model of a flea for the American Museum of Natural History. Detailed drawings through a microscope, with fresh specimens, and careful casting ensured an accurate model.....[ More ]

Fish Stability:

A professor at the Sorbonne in France made a series of models in an attempt to study fluid dynamics and how fish swim. Here, a model of a carp from 1914. In 2014 work like this is mostly done with computers, but you can still learn a lot from a robotic tuna made of aluminum and lycra.....[ More ]

Butterfly Farmer, 1914:

The interest in butterflies became the basis for a steady income for an early and celebrated entrepreneur from Truckee, California. Ximena McGlashen caught, raised and sold butterflies; she later earned an entomology degree from Stanford University.....[ More ]


Sir Ernest Shackleton, pictured here in his cold-weather gear, sought to become the first person to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea via the South Pole in 1914.....[ More ]

Crossing Antarctica:

A schematic representation of Ernest Shackleton’s proposed path across the continent, a feat never before acheived. The expedition foundered when his ship, Endurance , was crushed by pack ice, but no lives were lost. ....[ More ]

Arctic Optics:

Sunlight in regions of extreme cold produces a variety of optical effects that were still in the process of being catalogued in 1914. The flame-like effect shown in this watercolor painting occurred when the sun was near the horizon. ....[ More ]

Ascent of the Matterhorn:

Frederick Burlingham of the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company and his team lugged 70 pounds of film equipment up the mountain in 1914. Exploration films were as popular with audiences back then as they are today.....[ More ]

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