Field of Science

5 October, 1905: T-rex and the birth and death of a Pop Icon

The 5. October, 1905 in a paper published by the American palaeontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, he described and denominated three new species of theropod dinosaurs, one of them introduced to the world in a peculiar manner:

"I propose to make this animal the type of the new genus Tyrannosaurus, in reference to its size, which greatly exceeds that of any carnivorous land animal hitherto described."

Based on fragmentary material collected in 1902 Osborn reconstructed an animal standing upright on his hind legs, seen in profile to display its length and especially height (accentuated by the chosen posture), reaching more than 5m, dwarfing every predator of the past and the present. Even man, compared in the publication to the reconstructed skeleton, is banished as small skeleton in the right lower corner of the figure. Osborn also chose carefully the species-name of this new predator, to emphasize the importance of this discovery “The king of Tyrant lizards”.

The figure will soon become part of geology and palaeontology books of the epoch and trough them soon determinate the collective image of dinosaurs.
Curiously the T-rex of Osborn is one of the last active “mammalian dinosaurs” of the epoch between 1880 to 1920, and maybe influences even the end of this era.
This cliché of T-rex as the most terrible predator makes him a perfect antagonist in many adventures novels and later movies – however in part by the proposed reconstructions (especially the long tail scouring on the ground) and the limitations of the film technology at these times (making dynamic, jumping dinosaurs hard to realize) the image seen in the movies differs from the images in the books – the movie introduces the public to dinosaurs as large, heavy animals, with dull movements –strong, but not the fastest in movements and thoughts.

So the new medium will (and still is) profoundly influence the (good and bad) perception and notoriety of T-rex as a Pop culture icon.


OSBORN, H.F. (1905): Tyrannosaurus and other Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaurs. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 21: 259–265

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