Introduction

So many kids love dinosaurs that it’s difficult to remember that there weren’t always dinosaurs for them to love.

'A Former State of This Earth': Fossils in Early American Works for Children" is a brief introduction to works on fossils published for American children in books and magazines from 1802 to 1853. Some are illustrated; many aren’t. Many of the illustrations, as with much of the text, are redrawn from earlier works.


1802
… none of them are now to be seen …
Nathaniel Dwight’s A Short But Comprehensive System of the Geography of the World includes mention of the fossils at Big Bone Lick, but no real assurance that the mammoth was extinct.

1813
… the natives describe this animal as still existing … and affirm him to be carnivorious …
Ezra Sampson mingles fact with folklore in Youth’s Companion; or An Historical Dictionary, a collection of paragraphs on everything from William Herschell to cannabis; his tangle of information on the mammoth includes speculation that its bones were scattered from Siberia to North America by the Deluge.

1825
… Earth is 6000 years old …
Taking the bible as a source of historical information, the author of Blair's Outlines of Chronology presents the then-standard explanation that the earth was created in 6 literal days about 6000 literal years ago and that the Deluge was an historical event, since "the earth bears visible marks of having experienced some great convulsion.”

1831
… no animals of this kind now live in America, or anywhere else …
An illustration of the mastodon skeleton exhibited by Charles Willson Peale makes its debut in The First Book of History and The Child's Own Book of American Geography, both by Samuel Griswold Goodrich; the illustration appears later in Peter Parley’s Tales about the State and City of New York.

1832
In “Petrified Forests,” the Juvenile Rambler describes transformed forests near Rome and near Yellowstone, though the author doesn’t attempt to place them in the geological chronology.

1834
Parley’s Magazine often explored the worlds of history and science; “Fossil Shells” is a filler pointing out that a rock layer found in France could also be found high in the Andes, though there's no attempt to explain how this was possible.

1839
… coal is the remains of pre-Deluge forests …
Evidently reprinted from a British work, “The Fireside” describes coal and the history of its use. In a kind of tag-team lecture style common in early works for children—including other pieces in Parley’s Magazine—a father and mother explain to their fascinated children that coal is made up of the remains of forests uprooted by the Deluge.

Though mastodons had been discovered well before 1839, “The Mastodon” is an early attempt to describe its bones to American children—though “describe” doesn’t mean that readers of the Youth’s Cabinet would understand what the animal looked like.

1840
… the icthyosaurus was a great tyrant …
The first dinosaur illustrations in an American children's book are recreated from a British work as Samuel Griswold Goodrich asserts ownership of “Peter Parley,” the most popular (and plagiarized!) of his literary creations. The “fossil animals restored” in Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky include the plesiosaur, a pterosaur, and the untrustworthy ichthyosaur.

1841
Robert Merry’s Museum offers young readers an articulated mastodon skeleton and a detailed description, in “The Mammoth.” The piece served to introduce a fuller discussion of fossils to appear later.

… since the beginning, many creatures have come into existence and become extinct …
Josiah Holbrook gives geology its due in “Organic Remains,” which includes illustrations of a megatherium skeleton and explains that animals become extinct, "to give place to other and different races, each succeeding race being fitted to the state of the earth at the time they inhabited it.”

1842
… American children meet the iguanodon for the first time …
Probably the first dinosaur illustrations in an American periodical for children appear in Robert Merry’s Museum, though the word "dinosaur" isn’t used to describe the iguanodon, the plesiosaur, or the ichthyosaur; “Wonders of Geology” incorporates material from several sources.

1843
The Deluge is no longer mentioned as the source of coal when Parley’s Magazine prints “Who Filled the Coal Hole?,” which stretches the age of the Earth from 6000 to more than 60,000 years.

1845
… the world has existed for countless millions of ages …
The well-illustrated The Wonders of Geology examines the fossil record in detail, acknowledges that the Earth is unimaginably old, and concludes that geology proves that the biblical story of creation is correct.

1846
Petrified Forest on the Nile” describes a fallen stone forest apparently on the shore of a vanished sea, in one of the few pieces on geology to appear in Young People's Magazine.

1848
Robert Merry’s Museum emphasizes the colossal size of some prehistoric beasts, in “Wonders of Geology.”

1849
The editor of The Young People's Mirror presents readers with a long list of the types of creatures found in fossil form, in “Geology;" implied is that the creatures were exactly the same as modern versions.

… gigantic birds could swallow humans as if they were insects …
The Young People's Mirror mixes humans into the paleozoic stew in “Fossil Foot-Prints,” illustrating a piece on fossil footprints with an engraving of two “human” footprints found near St. Louis, Missouri.

1852
Robert Merry’s Museum describes a large tree found in a Pennsylvania coal mine, in “Fossil Tree in the Coal Rocks.”

… creation meets the end of the world …
The Schoolmate recreates fossil creatures like the megatherium, the plesiosaur, and the dinotherium in words and illustrations in “Wonders of Geology.” Just as the prehistoric world was remade for humans, readers are assured, so will it be recreated again after Judgment.

1853
… geology proves that the Earth was created in six days …
“Professor Pickaxe” explores the history of the Earth and the variety of prehistoric life in the seven-part “Letters About Geology.” Geology proves that the earth was created in 6 of "God's days" untold ages ago. The Deluge isn’t mentioned.

Some good reading

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