Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942

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Biographical History

C. Hart Merriam was a biologist who work for the Smithsonian Institution from 1910-1939. Merriam was born December 5, 1855 in New York City. His childhood was spent in Locust Grove, Lewis County, New York. Merriam’s father introduced him to Prof. Spencer Baird who attached the seventeen year old Merriam to a government expedition, the Hayden Survey. He spent a summer collecting birds and eggs in the Yellowstone region. That year, he attended college, first at the Pingry Military School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and later at Williston Seminary of Easthampton, Massachusetts. Following short stays at each school, in 1874 he went to Yale where he spent three years in the Sheffield Scientific School. Merriam transferred from Yale to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia, receiving his M.D. in 1879. In 1883, Merriam was elected secretary of the newly organized, American Ornithologists’ Union, and became chairman of the Committee on Bird Migration. Merriam's work at the end of the 19th century was instrumental is the emerging field of ecology. His field work and affiliation with the US Department of Agriculture led to his "life zones" concept being highly regarded throughout science. His theory focused on mapping how plants and animals are distributed across landscapes, and how they succeed at different levels from base to summit. Throughout time, Merriam’s interest in mammals began to grow. In 1885 he was chosen to head the Section of Economic Ornithology in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through his urging, the focus shifted from strictly birds to include mammals and in 1886 became known as Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy. In 1896 the name again changed to the U.S. Biological Survey, and ultimately the organization is known today as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The following year he organized and directed the Harriman Alaska Expedition. He was a member and one time president of the Biological Society and of the Anthropological Society. He was a co-founder of the National Geographic, serving on the Board of Directors for 54 years. Merriam was also active in founding the Washington Academy of Sciences and was one of the men consulted in laying the original plans for the Carnegie Institution. Hart's sister, Florence Merriam Bailey, became a distinguished observer of American birds in her own right. Merriam had met her through his colleague Vernon Bailey, whom he corresponded with in 1883. Bailey was a very skilled collector, and worked extensively in the western U.S. for Merriam and the Biological Survey. His later years were spent studying California Indians, and he maintained a home in Washington and another in Lagunitas, California. In 1886 he married to Elizabeth Gosnell, of Martinsburg, West Virginia and they had two daughters. Merriam died at the age of 87 on March 19, 1942.


  • Clinton Hart Merriam. (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
  • Osgood, Wilfred H. (1944) Biographical memoir of Clinton Hart Merriam, 1855-1942. National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: Biographical Memoirs, Vol. XXIV.

Related entities

  • United States. Bureau of Biological Survey: He was the first chief of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam, 1863-1948 : Sister of C. Hart Merriam.

Birth Date


Death Date



  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Ethnologists
  • Biologists


Personal name


  • Biologists
  • Ornithologists
  • Ethnologists