Charles Emerson Beecher (b. 1856, d. 1904), son of Moses and Emily (Emerson) Beecher, was born in Dunkirk, New York, on October 9, 1856. When he was a youth, his family moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and Beecher began collecting fossils from the local sandstones and shales. By the time he arrived at the University of Michigan (B.S. 1878), he had amassed a very respectable collection of fossil phyllocarids and freshwater unionids. Following his graduation from the University of Michigan, Beecher became a personal assistant to James Hall in Albany for 10 years, and then at the request of Yale’s Othniel C. Marsh, he moved to New Haven to oversee the Peabody Museum’s growing collection of invertebrate fossils. In 1891, Beecher was awarded his doctorate for his study on Brachiospongidae, an enigmatic group of Silurian sponges.
Although Beecher is best known for his work on trilobites, he really didn’t specialize on any particular group of organisms. Instead, he was interested in biological systems, evolution, and the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny. Beecher’s promotion was rapid. He ascended to Professor of Historical Geology in 1897 and, on the death of Marsh in 1899, Beecher succeeded him as Curator of the Geological Collections, the informal Director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.