Friday, June 06, 2008


Andrew just finished reading the new book of stories Where Light Takes its Color from the Sea: A California Notebook, by local author and old family friend James D. Houston. We are also fans of the artist who illustrated the cover, Tom Killion. Andrew loved the book. Maybe at some point he'll write about it, or I will once I read it.

Jim writes a lot about ancestors. That got us thinking and talking about our own ancestors, and how it sometimes seems like we share the same interests as they did, and how that relates to our lives and the way we spend our time.

One of Andrew's ancestors, Henry Augustus Ward, founded Ward's Natural Science Establishment in 1862, a company that sells all kinds of science teaching supplies to schools. The company is still in existence. Back in the late 1800's-early 1900's they did not yet have a website, but now they do.

Andrew is a pretty keen rockhound himself. Let's just say we know when it's time to leave the beach by when his pockets are full, and suddenly I become the recipient of many beautiful rock gifts, until soon my own pockets are full. While working on the beach as a lifeguard, picking up flotsam and jetsam was his specialty, hence the buoys, crabpots, and glass floats that litter our landscape. Nature, working hard outdoors, and taking care of plants are what makes him happy.

We were talking about all this during breakfast, and it led me to start poking around on the Ward's Natural Science website, and to this article about Henry Ward.

It's not very long, and packs a lot of amazing history into each paragraph, so I decided it's worth posting the whole thing here:


Not many institutions can boast of having a founder who traveled around the world seven times, sat atop Mt. Sinai, and survived smallpox — all before the turn of the century! WARD’S Natural Science Establishment, LLC, is proud to preserve the spirit of its founder, Henry Augustus Ward, 1834-1906.

From his first taste of traveling at age 12, when he ran away from his Rochester, New York, home, journeying to Chicago on foot and by lake steamer to visit his father, Henry’s quest for travel and adventure never ceased. After attending school in the Rochester area, Ward attended Williams College for a year, then studied at Harvard under the great naturalist Louis Agassiz. His education only added to a strong interest in the natural sciences kindled at age three, when Henry began his first specimen collection. In 1854, at 20, Ward was sent to Europe as tutor to his boyhood friend, Charles Wadsworth. The young men traveled together throughout Europe, then crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt, and descended the Nile. It was on their way across the desert to Jerusalem that Henry climbed Mt. Sinai, weathering an incredible storm there. Ward survived his desert trek through hostile territory by taking refuge with a friendly band of Bedouins. The collection of fossils and minerals Ward gathered during his eight-month excursion is housed in Buffalo’s Natural History Museum.

Henry stayed on in Europe, financing his geological studies at Paris’School of Mines by selling fossils. He forged relationships with professors and scientists from Russia to Portugal, where natural science research was enthusiastically supported. He even made an expedition to Africa before returning once again to Rochester. It was on the African coast, where Henry insisted on living the life of the natives while gathering materials for his ever-expanding collections, that he contracted smallpox. He was nursed for weeks by a native woman, who later proposed that Henry marry her. His diary does not detail his escape, but after his return to America, he sent a great packing crate filled with gifts to his African nurse.

As American colleges and universities caught "collection fever", WARD’S Natural Science Establishment had its formal beginnings. In 1862, Vassar Female College commissioned Ward to prepare a collection, one of the first he would sell, which was assembled on the University of Rochester campus. After a fire ravaged his campus building, Cosmos Hall, Ward established his private business away from the university grounds and began attracting notable individuals, talented European scientists, and men who would go on to greatness from their beginnings at WARD’S Natural Science Establishment.

Among the famous characters that Ward came in contact with was William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. Cody journeyed from the Wild West to Rochester to engage WARD’S in preserving some buffalo heads from Cody’s hunting expeditions. The two adventurers became lifelong friends.

Ward’s projects were always on a grand scale. In 1893, he mounted the largest single display at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Columbian Exposition, prepared for months in advance by 74 workmen, occupied a full 30 train cars. This exhibit of Ward’s collection won a blue ribbon and was purchased by retailer Marshall Field, who presented it to the city as the basis of the Chicago Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum.

Also on a "grand scale" was Ward’s work for P.T. Barnum. Barnum’s famous elephant, Jumbo, was the largest in captivity. After Jumbo lost a head-on battle with a locomotive, Barnum commissioned WARD’S to mount Jumbo’s skin and skeleton. Ward and renowned taxidermist Carl Akeley, future director of the American Museum of Natural History, worked almost two years to preserve the 12-foot-high, 14-foot-long, 6 1/2-ton elephant, and the beloved Jumbo’s traveling career continued well beyond his unfortunate demise.

Ward’s final collecting passion, which transcended any scientific interest he had held before, was meteorites. His obsession took him to Europe, to Persia, to Mexico, even on a wearying voyage to Colombia at age 71.

His plan for a trip across the southern Andes in search of more meteorite specimens was tragically thwarted. On July 4, 1906, Henry Ward was fatally injured by an automobile while walking on the street in Buffalo, New York; his was the first automotive fatality in the city. Henry Ward’s brain was donated to Cornell University at the request of his friend, Dr. Bert Wilder, for research on the physical characteristics of a brilliant mind. Wilder was studying a selection of brains from brilliant men like Ward, criminals, and politicians (whose "scientific" category could not be ascertained). His ashes rest in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester.

WARD’S Natural Science Establishment, LLC, strives to continue in the spirit of our founder, Henry Augustus Ward, with his infinite sense of wonder, innovation, and dedication to enlightening students of the natural sciences.


This starts to explain Andrew's passion for large projects, and why he likes to say, "Take small bites of the elephant."

More on this subject to come.

—credit and thanks to Ward's Natural Science for this story.


  1. Wow, Henry Augustus knew how to live, you're lucky to be able to call him an ancestor, AW.

  2. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Fascinating -- I loved it!
    Check out MUSTANG SALLY on sale at
    Yes, it made that and Barnes and Noble.

  3. Thanks Linda! That's incredible news about your play. Heading over to Amazon now. This deserves its own come...