Hailed as the father of vertebrate paleontology in America and much admired by such prominent scientists as Joseph Henry, James D. Dana, and Jeffries Wyman, Joseph Leidy never doted on his own accomplishments. Nor was he concerned that others did so, the discovery of the unknown being sufficient reward in itself. When two scientist friends questioned him in 1859 about his receiving proper credit for some of his work, the unassuming scientist answered that he was indifferent about the matter and added that, "Even should any one pass unnoticed more important things that I have done, I shall feel no regret about the matter.
The son of a prosperous Philadelphia hatmaker, Leidy developed his interests in science during childhood. At the age of 10 he was already keeping records of the various forms of animal and plant life that he observed on his numerous jaunts along Pennsylvania's Schuylkill River. His notebook sketches of collected specimens revealed a facility for drawing that suggested to his father the possibility of training the young Joseph to become a sign painter; his stepmother, however, recognizing that the boy's talent clearly lay in science, interceded, and in 1841 Leidy entered the University of Pennsylvania where three years later he received a degree as doctor of medicine.
Medicine, however, was not Leidy's first love and it was probably fortunate for him that his practice, which he set up in Philadelphia shortly after his graduation, failed. Given his dearth of clientele, he had ample time to pursue his studies in comparative anatomy and fossils. In 1847, having already won election to the Boston Society of Natural History and Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences as a result of his paper on New Jersey fossils, he earned still greater recognition for his article on the American fossil horse in which he proved that horses had existed in America long before their introduction by Europeans. Later, Darwin made use of the evidence he had accumulated in this