Cope, Edward Drinker (1840–1897)

By: Clinton P. Hartmann

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

Edward Drinker Cope, naturalist, the son of Alfred and Hannah Cope, was born on July 28, 1840, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied at Westtown Academy, 1849–53, the University of Pennsylvania, 1860–63, and the Smithsonion Institution. On August 14, 1865, while teaching at Haverford College (1864–67), he married Annie Pym; they had a daughter. Cope made field studies of fossil vertebrates in the East and became an authority on paleontology and zoology. He was for a time employed by the Hayden and Wheeler surveys (the former was later known as the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories).

When Cope made his first trip to Texas in the summer of 1877, he was in competition with fellow paleontologists to be the first to identify the fossils of the West; therefore, when he employed Jacob Boll to collect for him, it was in secret. On this journey Cope first recognized the existence of Permian amphibians, which represented a late geologic age before unknown in America. His published papers on his findings included "Descriptions of Extinct Batrachia and Reptilia from the Permian Formation of Texas" in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1877–78) and "On the Zoological Position of Texas" in the Bulletin of the United States National Museum (1880).

In recognition of his work on Texas geology and fossil vertebrates, Cope was employed by the Geological Survey of Texas during the summer of 1892 (see GEOLOGICAL SURVEYS OF TEXAS). With William F. Cummins, state geologist, Cope went to the Panhandle, where he discovered the fossil fields that came to be known as the Clarendon Beds of the Upper Miocene and Lower Pliocene age and the Blanco Beds of the late Pliocene; these contained fossils of mammalian quadrupeds that had come from South America and giant mastodons from Southern Africa. Cope also worked in Palo Duro Canyon. The mammal fossils collected on the trip were sent to the Museum of the Texas Geological Survey.

The findings of Cope's two journeys to Texas were published in at least thirty separate articles, including a series of five entitled "Contribution to the History of the Vertebrata of the Permian Formation of Texas" in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1881–85). Published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia (1892), was "A Contribution to a Knowledge of the Blanco Beds of Texas," and in the American Naturalist (1885–92) were "Pliocene Horses of Southwestern Texas," "Glyptodon from Texas," "On a Skull of the Equus excelsus Leidy from the Equus Beds of Texas," and "The Age of the Staked Plains." Cope's work made possible the identification of mammalian life that marked the close of the Pliocene age in America.

Cope was an assiduous collector and prolific writer. He named about one-third of the fossil vertebrates then known, published more than 600 articles and editorials, and owned and edited the American Naturalist for nineteen years. He was a member of national and foreign geological, philosophical, and scientific societies, and collected extensively in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the United States. From 1889 until his death on April 12, 1897, he was professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dictionary of American Biography. S. W. Geiser, Naturalists of the Frontier (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1937; 2d ed. 1948). Henry Fairfield Osborn, Cope, Master Naturalist: The Life and Letters of Edward Drinker Cope (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1931).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clinton P. Hartmann, “Cope, Edward Drinker,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994