C. Hart Merriam Biography
Hart Merriam was born in New York City on December 5, 1855. However, his wealthy
family maintained a large estate in Locust Grove, New York, where he spent his
boyhood surrounded by woods and fields brimming with a variety of plants and
animals. Merriam spent many hours in the woods exploring the local flora and
fauna. At the age of 18, Merriam published a report of his biological studies
on mammals and birds. This early exposure encouraged Merriam to have a deep
appreciation for nature.
1874, Merriam entered Yale University, where he studied biology and human
anatomy for 3 years, developing an interest in medicine. From Yale, he went on
to Columbia University, where he received his M.D. in 1879. While he was a
student his interest in wildlife continued, and he published an account of “The
Birds of Connecticut” in 1877.
he practiced medicine in Locust Grove from 1879 to 1885, he became one of the
founding members of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1883 and developed a
growing interest in the study and collection of mammals. In 1884, Merriam
described his first new species, Atophyrax
bendirii, which is a small shrew. In July 1885, Merriam was named to take
charge of the newly established section of ornithology in the Entomological
Division of the United States Department of Agriculture. As the chief of what
became the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1905, Merriam became a national
figure, spending 25 years with the bureau improving the scientific
understanding of the birds and mammals of the United States.
first visited the Colorado Plateau in 1889, publishing the results of abiological survey of the San Francisco Mountain region and desert of the Little Colorado, Arizona,
with Leonard Stejneger in 1890. He chose this region because “of its southern
position, isolation, great altitude, and proximity to an arid desert.” In
conducting the biological survey, it was believed new scientific and economic
understanding could be gained by surveying a “region comprehending a diversity
of physical and climatic conditions, particularly if a high mountain were selected,
where, as is well known, different climates and zones of animal and vegetable
life succeed one another from base to summit.” Merriam trekked greatly around
and on the San Francisco Peaks, including the cinder hills, Walnut Canyon,
Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert. His expeditions included extensive plant
and animal collections and elevation documentation from an aneroid barometer.
These studies eventually supported his “life zones” concept of biogeographical
J.N, and Hoffmann, R.S. 1994. Clinton Hart Merriam, 1919-1921. Pages 28–30 in E.C. Birney, and J.R. Choate (eds.). Presidents: Seventy-five
years of mammalogy (1919–1994). American Society of Mammalogists, Special Publication.
W. H. 1944. Biographical memoir of Clinton Hart Merriam, 1855–1942. Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of
Sciences of the United States of America: 24, 1–57.