Hornaday Awards History Center


Biography of William T. Hornaday

Compiled by David L. Eby

William T. HornadayWilliam T. 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.


Copyright 2000-2002 by David L. Eby Used with Permission

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