Edward Drinker Cope
(born July 28, 1840 – died April 12, 1897) was an American paleontologist
and comparative anatomist
, as well as a noted herpetologist
. Born to a wealthy Quaker
family, Cope distinguished himself as a child prodigy interested in science; he published his first scientific paper at the age of nineteen. Though his father tried to raise Cope as a gentleman farmer, he eventually acquiesced to his son's scientific aspirations. Cope married his cousin and had one child; the family moved from Philadelphia
to Haddonfield, New Jersey
, although Cope would maintain a residence and museum in Philadelphia in his later years.
Cope had little formal scientific training, and he eschewed a teaching position for field work. He made regular trips to the American West prospecting in the 1870s and 1880s, often as a member of United States Geological Survey teams. A personal feud between Cope and paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh led to a period of intense fossil-finding competition now known as the Bone Wars. Cope's financial fortunes soured after failed mining ventures in the 1880s, forcing him to sell off much of his fossil collection. He experienced a resurgence in his career toward the end of his life before dying of unidentified causes on April 12, 1897.
Cope's scientific pursuits nearly bankrupted him, but his contributions helped to define the field of American paleontology. He was a prodigious writer, with 1,400 papers published over his lifetime, although his rivals would debate the accuracy of his rapidly published works. He discovered, described, and named more than 1,000 vertebrate species including hundreds of fishes and dozens of dinosaurs. His proposals on the origin of mammalian molars and for the gradual enlargement of mammalian species over geologic time ("Cope's Law") are notable among his theoretical contributions. (see more...)