Horn, George Henry

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Horn, George Henry

(b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 7 April 1840; d. Beesley’s Point, New Jersey, 24 November 1897)


The son of Philip Henry Horn and the former Frances Isabella Brock, Horn earned an M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1861, then served from 1862 to 1866 in the medical corps of the California Volunteers. On his return to Philadelphia he practiced medicine, especially obstetrics, for many years.

Horn’s interest in zoology was aroused at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. His more than 200 publications extended from 1860 to 1896 and, except for two or three early items, dealt with the Coleoptera. The major influence on his life was his friendship with John Lawrence Le Conte, the leading American coleopterist of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Horn contributed the section on Otiorhynchidae to their “Rhynchophora of America, North of Mexico” (1876) and collaborated with Le Conte on “Classification of the Coleoptera of North America” (1883).

Horn’s many notable monographs on the numerous genera and families of Coleoptera dealt with the Nearctic fauna, except the Throscidae and Eucnemidae of the Biologia Centrali-Americana (1890). Turning to another subject, his “Synopsis of the Silphidae” (1880) and his “Genera of Carabidae” (1881) provided a brief examination of non-North American genera. The latter work was highly regarded in its day as an important contribution to the understanding of a major family. During his life he described a total of 1,583 species and varieties of Coleoptera, of which fifty-two were regarded as synonyms at the time of his death. His keys and descriptions were notable for their precision and clarity; although gradually amended, they dominated the field of determinative North American coleopterology for four or five decades after his death and still retain much of their usefulness. Horn’s work made possible, in important measure, Willis Stanley Blatchley’s Coleoptera of Indiana (1910) and furnished much of the foundation for James Chester Bradley’s Manual for the Genera of Beetles of America North of Mexico (1930). He made three trips to Europe (1874, 1882, 1888) to meet colleagues and to study collections.

Horn packed, for transmission to the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Le Conte’s collection, in accordance with the latter’s will; and he says that there was scarcely a box that did not bring to mind memories of their long association. Horn’s own collection was left to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Following Le Conte’s death in 1883, Horn became the leading American coleopterist and was regarded by the British coleopterist George Charles Champion as the leading student of beetles in North America up to that time.


I. Original Works. Walter Derksen and Ursula Scheiding-Gollner (see below) provide a list of biographical notices and a bibliography of 204 of Horn’s papers published after 1865. His most important single works include “Rhynchophora of America, North of Mexico,” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,15 (1876), 1–455, written with John Lawrence Le Conte; “Synopsis of the Silphidae of the United States With Reference to the Genera of Other Countries,” in Transactions of the American Entomological Society, 8 (1880), 219–322, plates vi-vii; “On the Genera of Carabidae With Special Reference to the Fauna of Boreal America,” ibid., 9 (1881), 91–96, plates iii-x; “Classification of the Coleoptera of North America,” in Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 507 (1883), 1–567, written with Le Conte; and “Fam. Throscidae and Fam. Eucnemidae,” in Biologica Centrali-Americana. Insecta. Coleoptera, III, pt. 1 (1890), 193–257, plate x.

II. Secondary Literature. On Horn and his work see Philip P. Calvert, “A Biographical Notice of George Henry Horn,” in Transactions of the American Entomological Society, 26 (1898), 1–24, with portrait; Samuel Henshaw, “The Entomological Writings of George Henry Horn (1860–1896) With an Index to the Genera and Species of Coleoptera Described and Named,” ibid., pp. 25–72; and Walter Derksen and Ursula Scheiding-Gollner, “Index literaturae entomologicae, Serie II,” in Die Welt-Literature über die gesamte Entomologie von 1864 bis 1900, II (Berlin, 1965), 354–358.

Melville H. Hatch