Osborn, Henry Fairfield (1887 – 1969) American Conservationist and Naturalist

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Henry Fairfield Osborn (1887 1969)
American conservationist and naturalist

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Osborn was the son of a renowned paleontologist who was also president of the American Museum of Natural History. Osborn graduated from Princeton in 1909 and attended Cambridge University in England. He then held a variety of jobs, working in freight and railroad yards and serving as a soldier in World War I. He finally took a position at a bank dealing in Wall Street investments.

Throughout his life, Osborn had accompanied his father on paleontological expeditions. As these trips continued into his adulthood, Osborn realized that his true vocation lay not finance but in natural science. In 1935 he accepted a position as secretary of the New York Zoological Society, an organization devoted to the "instruction and recreation of the people of New York." He was named president of the Society five years later and remained in office until 1968. As president, he actively pursued the creation of the Marine Aquarium at Coney Island, New Jersey, as well as improvements to the Bronx Zoological Park.

Osborn recognized the crucial need for an organization that would foster the preservation of endangered species and their habitats. With this purpose in mind, he founded in 1947 the Conservation Foundation (CF), an adjunct of the New York Zoological Society. CF was absorbed in 1990 by the World Wildlife Fund which still works for the conservation of endangered wildlife and natural areas.

Osborn used his knowledge of nature and his positions within these organizations to influence policy in Washington. He served on the Conservation Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of the Interior as well as on the Planning Committee of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Like William Vogt and later Paul R. Ehrlich, Osborn often expressed concern about population growth and available natural resources . He fully realized the serious ramifications of environmental and ecological neglect and understood the steps needed to conserve existing resources and develop improved methods of distribution. He published two highly successful books, Our Plundered Planet (1948) and The Limits of the Earth (1953), each of which outlined the importance of conservationist ideals and the perils of a population explosion. Osborn was an active member of the Save-the-Redwoods League , International Council for Bird Preservation, and other related organizations. He died in New York City in 1969 at the age of 82.

[Kimberley A. Peterson ]



Osborn, Henry Fairfield. Cope: Master Naturalist. Salem, NH: Ayer, 1978.

. Major Papers on Early Primates, Compiled From the Publications of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: AMS Press, 1980.

. Naturalist in the Bahamas: October 12, 1861June 25, 1891. New York: AMS Press, 1910.

. Origin and Evolution of Life: On the Theory of Action, Reaction and Interaction of Energy. Salem, NH: Ayer, 1980.

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Osborn, Henry Fairfield (1887 – 1969) American Conservationist and Naturalist

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