Rathbun, Richard, 1852-1918

Alternative names
Birth 1852-01-25
Death 1918-07-16

Biographical notes:

Richard Rathbun (1852-1918) was born in Buffalo, New York. He received his early education in the public schools of Buffalo and after graduation worked in his father's stone quarry business. Rathbun developed an early interest in the geology and paleontology of western New York, and by 1870 had deposited large collections of fossils in the Buffalo Society of Natural History. In 1871, Rathbun entered Cornell University on the advice of the distinguished Brazilian explorer, Charles F. Hartt. He left Cornell in 1873 to study the fossil collections at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. In 1874, he was appointed Assistant in Zoology in the Boston Society of Natural History. While serving in this position, Rathbun also worked as a volunteer assistant with the United States Fish Commission (USFC). In 1875, he became a Geologist with the Geological Commission of Brazil, under the direction of Hartt. He remained in Brazil until 1878, when he returned to the United States to accept the position of Scientific Assistant with the USFC. Rathbun remained on the staff of the USFC until 1896. His association with the Smithsonian Institution and United States National Museum began in 1881, when he was made Honorary Curator of the Department of Marine Invertebrates, a position he held until 1914. In 1897, Rathbun accepted the position of Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in charge of Office and Exchanges. In 1898, Rathbun's duties were expanded to include certain aspects of museum administration, and in 1901 his title was changed to Assistant Secretary, in charge of the National Museum, a position he held until his death in 1918.

Smithsonian Institution Archives Field Book Project: Person : Description : rid_723_pid_EACP720

Richard Rathbun was born in Buffalo, New York on January 25, 1852. He bcame curator of the paleontological museum of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. He studied geology and paleontology at Cornell until 1873, when he left to study under Louis Agassiz at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. In the summers he was voluntary assistant to Spencer F. Baird in the explorations of the U.S. Fish Commission along the New England coast. The Commission employed him as an assistant from 1878-1896, and he was in charge of research from 1887 on. In 1879-1880 he also served as an assistant in zoology at Yale. He then moved to Washington, D.C. and became curator of the department of marine invertebrates at the National Museum, a position he held for 34 years. He also continued working for the Fish Commission. In 1897 he became assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1898 he was put in charge of the National Museum. He was a member of the Biological Society of Washington, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Boston Society of Natural History, the American Society of Naturalists, the American Association of Museums, the American Fisheries Society, and others.

From the description of Richard Rathbun papers, 1852-1918. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 74897680

U.S. naturalist, zoologist and museum official.

From the description of Letter, 1906, July 27 : the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., to Mrs. Elizabeth C. Hobson, Northeast Harbor, Maine. (Duke University). WorldCat record id: 31775282

Art administrator; Washington, D.C.

From the description of Richard Rathbun letters, 1906-1910. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122515028


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  • Paleontologists
  • Zoologists
  • Scientists
  • Zoology
  • Paleontology
  • Fishes
  • Marine biology
  • Marine fishes
  • Arts administrators
  • Marine biologists


  • Geologists
  • Paleontologists


  • Mexico (as recorded)
  • Wyoming (as recorded)
  • Montana (as recorded)
  • New England (as recorded)
  • Great Lakes (North America) (as recorded)
  • Chesapeake Bay (as recorded)
  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)