William Harlow Reed
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William Harlow Reed

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, by 1877 William Harlow Reed (b. 1848, d. 1915) was station foreman at the Como Station on the Union Pacific Railroad in the Wyoming Territory. In the spring of that year Reed and the station agent, William Edwards Carlin, discovered the fossil remains of a large animal. Their letter to O.C. Marsh, signed “Harlow and Edwards” and mailed from Lusk, described the remains as “supposed to be those of the Megatherium” found in rocks of the “Tertiary Period.” When Marsh finally received 2 shipments from the pair, he recognized the fossils as dinosaurs. After an additional letter indicated the need for secrecy because of rival collectors, Marsh dispatched Samuel Wendell Williston to the area.

Reed took charge of the Como Bluff work in 1878. In 1879, he discovered Como Bluff Quarry 9, the source of the Yale Peabody Museum’s collection of Jurassic mammals. That same year, he discovered and collected the skeleton that Marsh made the type of “Brontosaurus excelsus” (Apatosaurus), now on display in the Peabody’s Great Hall.

In the spring of 1883, Reed left Marsh’s employ to go into a short-lived sheep ranching business with George Bird Grinnell, another former Marsh collector. (After Reed left, other Marsh collectors continued the work at the Como Bluff quarries for an additional 6 years. To this day the quarries have been worked on and off by various museums.) Between 1884 and 1894, Reed held several different jobs and worked as an independent fossil collector. Hired by Wilbur Knight of the University of Wyoming in 1894 as a guide and fossil collector, Reed continued to collect independently until he was hired exclusively by Knight in 1896. The next year he was made Assistant Geologist and Curator of the University of Wyoming Museum. In 1889 and 1890 Reed worked for the Carnegie Museum for a year and was involved in collecting the skeleton of Diplodocus carnegii. From 1901 to 1903, Reed collected in Wyoming for the American Museum of Natural History. On Knight’s death in 1903, Reed returned to the University of Wyoming, initially as Acting Curator and then as Assistant Geology Professor and Museum Curator. William Harlow Reed died in 1912.