Walcott, Charles D. (Charles Doolittle), 1850-1927

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Biographical History

Charles D. Walcott (1850-1927) was born March 31, in New York Mills, New York, and attended the Utica public schools and Utica Academy, but never graduated. He demonstrated an early interest in natural history by collecting birds' eggs and minerals; and, while employed as a farm hand, he began collecting trilobites. Walcott began his professional scientific career in November 1876 when he was appointed as an assistant to James Hall, New York's state geologist. In 1879 came to work for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as assistant geologist, eventually promoted to Geologist in charge of Geology and Paleontology. In the course of his work for the USGS he went to southwestern Utah to make stratigraphic sections, field work including expeditions to the Appalachians, New England, New York, eastern Canada, and several Middle Atlantic states, as well as other parts of southwestern and western United States. From 1882 to 1893 he worked with the Survey's invertebrate Paleozoic paleontological collections, and as Director from 1894 to 1907. He was honorary curator of invertebrate Paleozoic fossils at the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1892 to 1907, becoming Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1907. Despite his many administrative responsibilities as Secretary, Walcott was able to find time to continue his research and collecting of fossils from the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, with primary focus on the Canadian Rockies. In 1909 he located Cambrian fossils near Burgess Pass above Field, British Columbia. The following season he discovered the Burgess shale fauna, which proved to be his greatest paleontological discovery. Most of this research was published in various volumes of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections from 1908-1931. His one major publication during this period was Cambrian Brachiopoda, published in 1912. Walcott continued to return to the Canadian Rockies for most seasons through 1925, when he made his last field expedition. Although Walcott never received an academic degree, he was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and Europe. His colleagues recognized his contribution to paleontology by awarding him the Bigsby and Wollaston Medals from the Geological Society of London; the Gaudry Medal of the Geological Society of France; and the Hayden Medal from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He also served as a founder and president, 1899-1910, of the Washington Academy of Sciences; president of the Cosmos Club, 1898; president, 1915-1917, of the Washington Branch of the Archeological Institute of America; and president, 1925-1927, of the American Philosophical Society.


Yochelson, Ellis L. (1967).“Charles Doolittle Walcott 1850—1927: A Biographical Memoir.” National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from www.nasonline.org/.../walcott-charles.pdf

Related entities

  • Geological Survey (U.S.) : He worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, 1879 - 1907.
  • United States National Museum: He was honorary curator of invertebrate Paleozoic fossils at the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1892 to 1907.
  • Smithsonian Institution: He became Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1907.

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  • Geologists
  • Paleontologists


Personal name


  • Geologists
  • Paleontologists