Nature Bulletin No. 395-A November 14, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Snooty easterners prone to sneer at Chicago as being a crude boisterous
city of gangsters, stockyards, windy weather and windy people, ignore
the fact that it is one o the world's great centers of learning, science and
culture. Chicagoans are proud of their magnificent museums but few
know that two of them, the Academy of Sciences and the Museum of
Natural History, have their roots in the ideals and achievements of a
remarkable naturalist who died in 1866 when less than 31 years of age:
Soon after he was born in New Orleans on November 13, 1835, his
parents came north and settle here in "The Grove", on Milwaukee Ave.,
in Northfield Township. He was a frail boy who had little formal
schooling but received much instruction from his father, Dr. John A.
Kennicott, a learned physician passionately devoted to horticulture. He
was encouraged to roam about, recording and studying the plants and
animals he found.
At 17 he was sent to study under Dr. Jared Potter Kirtland in Cleveland.
Kirtland another physician and horticulturist, now famous in the history
of natural science, introduced Robert to several outstanding men who
became interested in him -- notably, Spencer Fullerton Baird, really the
founder of the National Museum, then planning zoological explorations
of the entire American continent by naturalists under the auspices of the
Smithsonian Institution. As a result, the rest of young Kennicott's brief
life was spent in exploration, collecting specimens, preserving and
cataloging them for various museums .
He quickly established a reputation for clear descriptions and accuracy.
He presented a wealth of new facts about the habits and economic
importance of the smaller mammals. He also pointed out the differences
between eastern and western forms of animals and wrote: "I wish to
show these gentlemen that if two-legged animals in the West follow
Eastern fashion, four-legged ones don't !.
In 1855, he collected specimens in southern Illinois for the State
Natural History Survey. He helped found the Chicago Academy of
Sciences in 1856, later becoming its Director. He made the original
collections for a museum at Northwestern University. In 1859, he
started from Ft. William, on the shore of Lake Superior, to explore
Arctic North America. More than three years were spent in the
Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins, collecting geological specimens,
fishes, mammals, birds, and all kinds of insects for the Smithsonian
Institution. His fascinating journal of that trip is priceless.
In 1865, he was selected as one of the leaders of an expedition to
explore an overland route to Europe via Alaska -- then Russian
Territory -- and Siberia: also to make collections for the Smithsonian
and the Chicago academy. They finally arrived at Norton Sound and
portaged to the Yukon River where on May 12, 1866, Kennicott
overexerted himself in saving a Russian member of the party from
drowning. The next morning they found him on the river bank, dead,
with his compass set in the ground and, drawn in the mud, a map of the
He was a great and lovable person.
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012