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The Museum of Natural and Cultural History traces its lineage to Thomas Condon, first science professor of the University of Oregon. Condon’s story in Oregon began in 1852 when, at age 30, he arrived as a Congregationalist missionary intent on bringing the light of knowledge to the pioneers. Interested in fossils since his youth, he had carefully learned the ideas of modern geological sciences as educational background required for his seminaries. When fossils were discovered in central Oregon’s John Day Basin in the 1860s, Rev. Condon was the most knowledgeable paleontologist in the Oregon Territory, and, with his congregation in The Dalles, ideally located to receive the finds. His first visit to the John Day region was in 1865, and many more followed over the next decades.

At the university’s founding in 1876, Thomas Condon, already the State Geologist, was the natural choice for the initial science professor. He moved to Eugene with his large collection of fossils, made with the intention of educating the people of Oregon about their wonderful natural history. He used his specimens in classes, illustrating his points with the actual fossils that recorded the history of life.

After Condon’s death in 1907, his fossils became the nucleus of the Condon Museum, today part of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The people of Oregon owe a debt of gratitude to the forward-thinking man who ensured that future generations could fully appreciate the richness of the state’s natural history. This web gallery illustrates gems from Condon’s personal collection. The compass was given to him by famous paleontologist O.C. Marsh, to thank him for assistance in the field when he visited Oregon in the early 1870s. Photos by Lieke Dircks, text by Edward Davis, and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.

Further Reading:

Clark, Robert D.
1989    The Odyssey of Thomas Condon: Irish Immigrant, Frontier Missionary, Oregon Geologist. Oregon Historical Society Press.

Condon, Thomas.
1902    The Two Islands And What Came of Them. J.K. Gill Co., Portland. (Available free from Google Books: search for The Two Islands)

McCornack, Ellen Condon and Henry Fairfield Osborn.
1928 [reissued 2001]    Thomas Condon, Pioneer Geologist of Oregon. University of Oregon Press, Eugene.

Entelodont canine tooth (view one)
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Entelodont canine tooth (view one)
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Choenohyus decedens skull
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Rhinoceros right jaw
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Forbesiocrinus ramulosus calyx and arms (view one)
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Forbesiocrinus ramulosus calyx and arms (view two)
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Canid (dog) pelvis (view one)
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Canid (dog) pelvis (view two)
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Patinopecten propatulus shell (view one)
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Patinopecten propatulus shell (view two)
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Eporeodon occidentalis skull and jaw (view one)
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Eporeodon occidentalis skull and jaw (view two)
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Eporeodon occidentalis skull and jaw (view three)
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Oreodon jaw (view one)
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Oreodon jaw (view two)
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Pterosaur skull
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Thomas Condon's Pocket Compass (view one)
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Thomas Condon's Pocket Compass (view two)
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