After the discoveries of dinosaur fossils in the American West in the late nineteenth century, the United States became world renown for vertebrate paleontology. In his new book Assembling the Dinosaur: Fossil Hunters, Tycoons, and the Making of a Spectacle
(Harvard University Press, 2019), Lukas Rieppel
explains how the discoveries projected American exceptionalism and, at the height of the Gilded Age, became symbols of industrial capitalism. As Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan funded paleontology fieldwork and philanthropic museums, they bolstered their own reputations within the scientific community, and popularized creatures like the Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. These American business magnates and tycoons soon counted on the eye-catching displays of ferocious dinosaurs, not to justify the cut-throat nature of capitalism in their own times, but to symbolize man’s progress and ascent from the depths of the prehistoric past.
Ryan Driskell Tate is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Rutgers University. He teaches courses on modern United States history, environmental history, and histories of labor and capitalism. He is completing a book on energy development in the American West. @rydriskelltate