Edward Drinker Cope

July 28, 1840 – April 12, 1897

Edward Drinker Cope

Born July 28, 1840 to a well-off family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Edward Cope is one of the world’s most famous paleontologists.

The oldest of three children, Cope was raised by his aunt after his mother passed when he was three years old.  Attending prestigious boarding schools as a child allowed Cope access to museums such as the Academy of Natural Sciences, which lead to his interest in Biology and the Natural Sciences.  The aspiring scientist's dream was put on hold when, at the age of sixteen, he moved back home to help with the family farm.  It was over the next four years, from 1856 to 1860, that Cope’s interest in the natural sciences grew, and he published his first paper in 1859 on salamanders.

In 1860, after attending a comparative anatomy course at the University of Pennsylvania, Cope was able to convince his father to allow him to enroll in the University.  Studying under Joseph Leidy, a paleontologist and anatomist, Cope’s work included re-cataloguing a collection of reptiles and amphibians at the Academy of Natural Sciences. This work then proceeded to Washington to study the herpetological collections of the Smithsonian Institute under Spencer Fullerton Baird.

Europe and Marsh

To avoid being drafted into the Civil War, Cope was sent to Germany to study natural history.  During this time Cope met Othniel Charles Marsh in Berlin during the winter of 1863.  Although they started out as friends, their friendship soon eroded and turned into a 30 year battle classified as the Great Bone Wars.

Return to the United States

Returning to the United States in 1864, Cope became professor of natural sciences at Haverford College.  During this time, Cope’s interest moved from living organisms to studying organisms in fossil form.  This was the perfect timing, because the government authorized and funded surveys to investigate and make geographical maps.  These expeditions provided access to previously unknown fossil fields.  While previous expeditions only provided bone fragments, the westward expansion and railroad system allowed for newly discovered fossils to remain intact during transport.


It was these advantages along with a $250,000 inheritance from his father (worth over four million in dollars today) that allowed Cope to hire various field personnel and allowed him to focus on publications. Although occasionally criticized for errors in interpretation and naming, Cope was able to complete 76 publications from 1879 to 1880 and 1,200 books and papers in total. Known for Cope’s Law, which states that over time species tend to become larger, and being a founder of Neo Lamarckian school of thought, Cope was the constant perfectionist, sometime viewed as a militant paleontologist.

The Naturalist



In 1878, the publication named The American Naturalist was up for sale. With his sizable inheritance, Cope purchased interest in the paper in 1878 and served as editor, a task that took a toll on his time as well as his energy.

Throughout his career Cope discovered over 1,000 different species of fossil vertebrates including some of his more famous discoveries of Lystosaurus, Champsosaurus, and Amphicoelias. Two of Copes most important published works include 139 National Academy Biographical Memoirs Vol XIII published in 1886 and Primary Factors of Organic Evolution published in 1896.

Amphicoelias fragillimus

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