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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


William Palmer

William Palmer was born in 1856, the son of Joseph and Letitia (Griffen) Palmer, in Penge, London. He spent the first twelve years of his life there. William's father, Joseph, was a skilled taxidermist, modeler, maker of plaster casts, and the coloring of reproductions. He worked for Professor B. Waterhouse Hawkings at Crystal Palace creating restorations of extinct animals. William visited his father's place of work which had a great influence on him and inspired his later work. When the Professor was asked to do similar work for Central Park in New York City, the elder Palmer and his family moved with him. Joseph worked on this project until it was eventually abandoned after which he served as a taxidermist at the park, later becoming general assistant at the museum, and for a time was in charge of the zoological garden. In 1873, he came to Washington where he became a taxidermist and modeler at the National Museum, a position he held until his death. William Palmer went to school in New York City to pursue a medical profession but was forced to abandon his goal after little support from his father and lack of financial support. He followed his father to Washington, D.C. and worked for a mercantile firm which he enjoyed. But his father was determined to have William follow in his footsteps and found a vacancy for him at the National Museum in 1874 as assistant in taxidermy and modeling. William worked under his father until 1883 when he was sent to New Haven, Connecticut and later Barnegat City, New Jersey to create models for various museums. In 1885 William married Miss Arminia Knowles of Washington. In 1887 Palmer was sent along with Messrs and Lucas to Funk Island to secure the remains of the Great Auk which they did with great success. In 1980 Palmer was sent to the Pribylou Islands in Alaska to hunt for a walrus for the museum. Though he ended up securing a walrus hunted by officers of Revenue Cutter, while on his trip, he collected thousands of specimens which he brought back to the museum. From that point on, William was sent on many expeditions around the globe to secure specimens for various exhibits and was eventually promoted to Chief Taxidermist of the National Museum. In 1914, when the last passenger pigeon died at the Cincinnati zoological garden, it was sent directly to Palmer for preservation. Palmer belonged to an array of groups including the Society of American Taxidermists, the American Fern Society, the Biological Society of Washington and the American Ornithologists' Union, the latter which he became a member of in 1888 and fellow ten years later. William Palmer had a long and distinguished career, passing away at the age of 65 in 1921.

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