Edward Cope PA conservation figure

Edward Cope

July 28, 1840 – April 12, 1897

Edward Cope was an American paleontologist, comparative anatomist, and a renowned herpetologist and ichthyologist. Cope’s life was consumed by the insatiable quest for knowledge. He sacrificed wealth, family, and health in his search to explore and explain the world around him.

Born on July 28th, 1840 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, he was raised in a wealthy Quaker family. At a very young age, his parents taught him to read and write, and began to develop his interest in animals by taking Edward on trips to New England, museums, zoos and gardens.

In 1858, Cope frequently visited the Academy of Natural Sciences mostly to classify toads, salamanders and snakes he collected. At the age of 19 he had published a seven page contribution that appeared in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science. His paper focused on the primary divisions of the Salamandridae, with descriptions of two new species. By the 1860s, Cope had established himself as one of America’s foremost herpetologist, and by 1861 was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, becoming the secretary in 1865, and appointed to curator in 1876.

Cope’s father sent Edward to study in Europe in order to avoid fighting in the Civil War. Here Cope toured the museums and scientific institutions of England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Central Europe.

When traveling through Belgium, Cope befriended O.C. Marsh and the two would shortly begin hunting for fossils in the eastern United States. Before their involvement in paleontology research, only 18 dinosaur species were known to North America. Together the duo named and classified more than 130 new dinosaur species in North America. A personal feud between Marsh and Cope sparked in the 1860s when Marsh visited a dig site Cope was exploring in New Jersey. Marsh secretly paid Cope’s men to supply Marsh with any future finds. The feud became known as the “Bone Wars” and the two spent the next 30 years competing to identify the most fossils.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Cope spent time teaching at Yale and prospecting in the American West as a member of the United States Geological Survey. In 1877, Cope purchased The American Naturalist Journal to spread his work throughout the scientific community. In the same year, Cope founded his own rule (Cope’s Rule) which states: that over time, animal and plant lineages have a tendency to become larger. His law was initially accepted but is often debated today.

In the 1880’s, with dwindling financial resources, Cope invested whatever money he had left into silver mines. The mines supplied Cope with revenue for six years, then stop producing, forming him to sell some of his mammal fossils to raise revenue.

“In the 1890s, Cope received funding from Texas Geological Survey to conduct field work in 1892. As his finances improved, Cope was able to publish the Batrachians of North America which was the most detailed analysis and organization of the continent’s frogs and amphibians ever created, and a 1,115-page novel called The Crocodilians Lizards and Snakes of North America. He also served as the president of the Academy of Natural Sciences from 1881 to 1891. “

In 1896, Cope began suffering from a gastrointestinal illness he said was cystitis. He continued to give lectures from his bed until his death on April 12th 1897.

Cope was responsible for supplying the scientific community with 1,400 papers published over his lifetime, and discovered, described, and named more than 1,000 vertebrate species, including hundreds of fish and dozens of dinosaurs.