Albert Koch was one of those fascinating characters who burst upon the American scene in the early nineteenth century. He was a fossil collector who has been lauded and ridiculed by both scientists and laymen alike. After collecting natural history specimens in Pennsylvania and Michigan, he opened a museum in St. Louis, an amalgam of natural history objects, curiosities, and theatrical performances. He is best known for his famous Missourium, a grossly misassembled American mastodon skeleton that ended up in the British Museum. Because of the hokum he peddled, many scientists considered his exaggerated and misassembled skeleton a hoax. Albert Koch created additional controversy when he observed that he had uncovered evidence that the extinct megafauna and early man were contemporaneous, a debate that remained unsettled for several decades. This essay critically examines Koch’s fossil collecting pursuits, his claims of human-megafauna associations, as well as his contributions to science and natural history.
This is the first of a two-part paper, the second focusing on Koch’s discovery and exhibition of an early archaeocete whale that he called Hydrarchos, an exaggerated skeleton that created significantly more controversy than his Missourium.