Biography of William T.
Compiled by David L.
Hornaday was born in Plainfield, Indiana on December 1, 1854. He attended
Oskaloosa College in Iowa and Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa then became
associated with Wards National Science Foundation in Rochester, N.Y in 1873.
In 1874 he made his first collecting expedition for Wards to the Bahamas,
Cuba and Florida. In 1876 he spent six months in the West Indies and South
America and a short time later made a two-year tour of exploring and
collecting for Wards in the Jungles of Ceylon, Malaya and Borneo. He married
Josephine Chamberlain of Battle Creek, Michigan in 1879. In 1880, Dr.
Hornaday founded the National Society of American Taxidermists and in 1882
was named the Chief Taxidermist of the National Museum (the Smithsonian), a
position he held until 1890. Two years before he left he persuaded the
museum to establish a living animals department and was so successful as the
curator that the National Zoological Garden was established in Washington,
D.C. When people above him radically changed his original plans for the Zoo,
he resigned rather than be responsible for them. He left his zoological
career at that point for a six-year stint as a businessman. He moved to
Buffalo, N.Y. in 1890 where he started and ran a real estate business for
six years. During those six years in Buffalo, N.Y., he served as a Trustee
for the Buffalo Museum of Science. In 1896 he returned to his zoological
career and became the first director of the New York Zoological Garden (the
Bronx Zoo), which, under his supervision, became the largest and finest zoo
in the world. He remained in that position for thirty years, retiring in
1926 at age 72. The New York Zoological Society is now known as the Wildlife
Conservation Society (since 1994). In 1913 he created the Permanent Wild
Life Protection Fund and raised $105,000.00 to endow it. Through the Fund,
Dr. Hornaday did as much as any living man of his era to protect wild life.
He was also one of the organizers of the Stamford Museum in Connecticut.
William T. Hornaday also
revolutionized how museums displayed wildlife exhibits. Before he came along
they were simply mounted and placed on a board. He created and showed life
like displays of wildlife in their natural settings. The first time he did
this with monkeys it created a sensation. Surprisingly, Dr. Hornaday was at
one time a big game hunter. He established the National Collection of Horns
and Heads at the Bronx Zoo when it appeared big game animals would become
extinct. That collection is now owned by the Boone & Crockett Club and is on
display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. Dr. Hornaday
is widely credited with saving the American bison and the Alaskan fur seal
from extinction. He also played a large part in ending the use of feathers
in women's hats. This alone saved millions of birds from slaughter.
According to some sources, Dr. Hornaday was considered to be a bit eccentric
in his day and he was involved in a highly controversial exhibit at the
Bronx Zoo in 1906 that involved an African native named Ota Benga that
ultimately ended in tragedy.
Dr. Hornaday was the
President of a conservation group called the Campfire Club in 1905 as well
as the President of the American Bison Society from 1907-10. He was also the
President of the U.S. Junior Naval Reserve in 1916 and was a published poet
as well as a songwriter. He was a very influential writer and wrote hundreds
of newspaper and magazine articles and twenty-six books, which greatly
helped bring about far reaching conservation laws. Dr. Hornaday was the
author of the 1929 BSA Bird Study merit badge book and wrote articles for
Boys Life Magazine. He, along with Ernest Thompson Seton, is among the 27
people enshrined in the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Hall of
Fame. Seton was selected in 1968, Dr. Hornaday in 1971. The very first
person chosen for the Conservation Hall of Fame was another icon of Scouting
in it's early years. It was not Audubon or John Muir but Theodore Roosevelt,
who was inducted in 1964.
Dr. Hornaday devoted his
life to the crusade of wild life protection and proved to be a formidable
defender of that cause. He died on March 6, 1937 at age 82 in Stamford,
Connecticut. While he had the same frailties all humans do, he also had an
extraordinary ability to organize and a drive to get things done. His great
passion in life was to protect wild life from slaughter by humans. To that
end he was extremely successful.