The Megatherium Club

Learn about the Megatherium Club, named after a giant extinct sloth that once roamed South America, which consisted of an eccentric group of young naturalists aiming to understand the natural world, and build the Smithsonian’s collection in the mid to late 1800s. 

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Edward Drinker Cope

Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897), Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA RU000095 [SA-420]. Edward Drinker Cope, a paleontologist and a “very hard worker with a very good head” offered a great deal of findings to the Smithsonian and the world of science. Fellow Megatherium Club member Robert Kennicott notes in his letter “Folks at Home” that Cope is, “…bound to be one of the first naturalists of the age,” stating that Cope is ahead in his studies of reptiles compared to the rest of the country. Because of this fact alone, Cope can be labeled a “P.B.”—a "perfect brick."

Cope was born into a Philadelphian Quaker family on July 28, 1840, and had a very close relationship with his father from an early age. Cope’s father sparked his interest in the natural world by teaching him the names and characteristics, as well as proper care, for plants and trees. In addition to these teachings, Cope also learned the skill of cartography, or map-making.

At the early age of six, Cope embarked on a trip to Boston with his father, creating a journal that included drawings and descriptions of his findings. His education in paleontology, or the study of fossil plants and animals, further flourished due to a separate trip to Cuba, as well as attendance in school and frequent visits to museums.

The following years of Cope’s life were filled with producing research with fellow Megatherium Club member Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, participating on expeditions such as the Texas Survey, and selling his collections. Before his death on April 12, 1897, Cope managed to establish himself as a great paleontologist, contributing more than 1, 300 papers and 600 species to science.

Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897), Professor of Geology and Paleontology, University of Pennsylvania. SIA Acc. 90-105 [SIA2008-1285].

Professor (Haverford College, University of Pennsylvania), U.S. Geological Survey member, zoologist, student of Spencer Fullerton Baird, and owner and editor of American Naturalist. SIA Acc. 11-006 [MAH-6812].

 

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