Granger, Walter Willis

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Granger, Walter Willis

(b. Middletown Springs, Vermont, 7 November 1872; d. Lusk, Wyoming, 6 September 1941)


The son of charles H. Granger and Ada Byron Haynes, Granger acquired his keen interest in nature as a boy in rural Vermont and began his lifelong career at the American Museum of Natural History in 1890, after only two years of high school. He married Anna Dean of Brooklyn, New York, on 7 April 1904; they had no children. In 1932 he was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by Middlebury College, Vermont. Besides being a member of several scientific societies, he was particularly active in the Explorers Club, of which he was president in 1935–1937 and later an honorary member.

Granger’s first years at the American Museum were divided between taxidermy and maintenance work. In 1894 he collected mammal and bird skins in the Rocky Mountains; his interest in fieldwork led to his transfer in 1896 to the department of vertebrate paleontology. In 1909 he was advanced to assistant curator, in 1911 to associate curator, and in 1927 to curator of fossil mammals.

Granger possessed the keen eye, steady hand, and infinite patience essential for finding and collecting delicate fossils. Between 1896 and 1918 he spent nineteen field seasons in the western United States; in 1907 he accompanied Henry F. Osborn to the Fayum in Egypt. From 1897 to 1901 he took part in the excavations for dinosaurs at Bone Cabin, Wyoming, and his first paleontological publication was on some of this material. His major efforts, however, were devoted to the early Tertiary of the Rocky Mountains. His extensive collections of well-preserved fossil mammals formed the basis for numerous systematic revisions and stratigraphic studies.

In 1921 Granger went to China as paleontologist and second in command of the American Museum’s Central Asiatic Expeditions, led by Roy Chapman Andrews. During five summers in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia he found and collected a series of faunas ranging in age from Jurassic to Pleistocene. The excitement brought to the expedition members and to the scientific world by the discoveries of the small horned dinosaur Protoceratops and accompanying nests of eggs, of tiny Cretaceous mammal skulls, and of the giant Baluchitherium, largest of all land mammals, are well told in Andrews’ report of the expedition.

Soon after Granger’s arrival in China in 1923 he accompanied Dr. Andersson, the leader of the Swedish scientific mission to China, and members of the Chinese Geological Survey to Choukoutien, a locality near Peking where fossil bones had been collected. It was on this visit that the cave deposit which later yielded the remains of Peking man was first brought to the attention of these scientists. Granger was favorably impressed by the richness of the deposit and encouraged the Swedish and Chinese scientists to investigate it fully and advised them on suitable techniques for doing so.

During three winters between the Mongolian trips Granger visited a remote region of Szechwan and obtained an important series of Pleistocene mammals from Chinese collectors who dug out fossil bones and teeth for the Chinese drug markets.

After 1930 Granger’s efforts were devoted largely to the necessary curatorial work on the Mongolian collections, to departmental administration, and to editing reports of the Asiatic expeditions. Each summer he found time to spend a few weeks in the field with his skilled preparator and long-time friend Albert Thomson, and his life ended quietly in the middle of such a congenial excursion.


I. Original Works. The most extensive list of Granger’s publications is included in the memorial by Simpson (1942). His technical papers are cited in the bibliographies of vertebrate paleontology by O. P. Hay, Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 390, I (Washington, D.C., 1929), 198; and by C. L. Camp et al., Geological Society of America. Special Papers 27 (1940), p. 22; 42 (1942), p. 157; memoir 37 (1949), p. 80.

Granger published an important systematic study of primitive fossil horses in “A Revision of the American Eocene Horses,” in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 24 (1908), 221-264; and of primitive ungulates known as condylarths in “A Revision of the Lower Eocene Wasatch and Wind River Faunas,” ibid., 34 (1915), 329–361; and, in the same bulletin, several papers on Tertiary geology of the Rocky Mountains. He more characteristically communicated his extensive knowledge of mammalian morphology and relationships orally to his co-workes. In this way he collaborated with William D. Matthew, William K. Gregory, George G. Simpson, et al. in twenty papers on the systematics of Eocene mammals; he also contributed importantly to Matthew’s major monographs “The Carnivora and Insectivora of the Bridger Basin, “in Memoris from the American Museum of Natural History, 9 , pt. 6 (1909), 289–567; and “Paleocene Faunas of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s . 30 (1937). He was coauthor of 35 reports on vertebrate fossils from Mongolia and China.

Two chapters, “Paleontological Exploration in Eastern Szechuan ...” and “A Reconnaissance in Yunnan, 1926–1927,” were contributed by Granger to R. C. Andrews, The New Conquest of Asia (pp. 501-528 and 529–540). He also wrote popular accounts of the Gobi exploration and gracious memorials to W. D. Matthew, in Journal of Mainmalogy, 12 (1931), 189–194; and to F. B. Loomis, in Proceedings, Geological Society of America for 1936 (1937) 173–178,

II. Secondary Liteature On Granger or his work, see R. C,. Andrews, The New Conquest of Asia: Natural History Natural History of central Asia, Reports of Central Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, I, pt. 1 (New York, 1932), 1–453; Donald R. Barton, “The Way of a Fossil Hunter,” in Natural History,47 (1941), 172–176; and G. G. Simpson, “Memorial to Walter Granger,” in Proceedings, Geological Society of America for 1941 (1942), 159–172, with portrait and bibliography of 106 titles.

Brief obituary notices are C. F. Cooper, in Nature, 148 (1941), 654–655;. J. J. Hickey and J. T. Nichols, in Abstracts of Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of New York, 52–53 (1941), 151–152; T. S. Palmer, in Auk, 59 (1942), 140; G. G. Simpson, in Science, 94 (1941), 338–339; and News Bulletin. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 4 (1941) 1–2.

Joseph T. Gergory