Exploring Nature [Slide Show]
A short trip down the natural history corridor of the Scientific American Archives from a century ago
Scientific American, November 28, 1914
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. Scientific American, November 28, 1914
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. Scientific American, March 21, 1914
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. Scientific American Supplement, October 17, 1914
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.
Scientific American, March 28, 1914 Advertisement
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.
Scientific American, March 28, 1914
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.
Scientific American, March 28, 1914
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.
Scientific American Supplement, December 12, 1914
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.
Scientific American, June 20, 1914 Advertisement
Endurance: 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.
Scientific American, February 7, 1914
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. Scientific American, February 7, 1914 Advertisement
There are many ways to learn about the world around us. We can experience it ourselves or we can read about it from other people who have pushed the boundaries of knowledge to fill in a few more pages of what we know about natural history.
Some explorers wanted to be the first to go where no human had ever gone. Some wanted to show natural wonders to those sitting in the comfort of their daily lives. Other researchers teased out threads of the story of evolution from fossils or even models. Some just needed to make a living from the widespread curiosity that people had about nature.
Here are a few vignettes from 1914 in the field of natural history, taken from the archives of Scientific American.
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