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George F. Sternberg

Charles and George Sternberg George Fryer Sternberg was born August 26, 1883, in Lawrence, Kansas, to Charles Hazelius and Anna Margaret (Reynolds) Sternberg. His father, Charles H., and his uncle George M. Sternberg had become well respected paleontologists in the late 19th century. George F. Sternberg followed in his family’s footsteps. 

At the age of nine, Sternberg accompanied his mother and younger brother to a site along Beaver Creek in Logan County where his father was working. There Sternberg made his first discovery—a nearly complete plesiosaur from the Cretaceous Era. The younger Sternberg gives credit to his father for imparting knowledge of paleontology, which made a greater impact on him than his formal schooling. George F. married Mabel Clare Smith on December 31, 1907, in Phillipsburg. The couple had three children and later divorced.

During his career Sternberg conducted numerous investigations in the Midwest and West and beyond. He discovered a giant buffalo (with six-foot horn cores) near Hoxie, Kansas, and a Triceratops in Wyoming in 1908. Sternberg spent a number of years excavating in the Red Deer River Valley in Canada. In 1924 and 1925 Sternberg went to Patagonia in South America to research for the Field Museum. He gained recognition for his discoveries and classification of a new sub-family of mastodons.

In 1927 Sternberg was hired as field vertebrate paleontologist and curator of the museum at Fort Hays State University in Hays. He developed public and educational programs for the museum and helped to build the paleontology and geology collections. Initially for academic use, the museum expanded to serve schools and the public. Sternberg then married Anna Gertrude Ziegler on October 11, 1930.

George F. Sternberg and Myrl Walker at work on a site Sternberg is known for excavating the "fish within a fish," the most complete specimen of its kind. Inside the prehistoric skeleton of the 14-foot Xiphactinus audax is a six-foot fish. The fossil was discovered by Walter Sorensen of the American Museum of Natural History in Gove County, Kansas, in 1952. Sternberg and his team completed the excavation. This rare specimen can be seen at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.

In addition to the Butterfield Trail Museum, Russell Springs, and Fick Fossil Museum, Oakley, Sternberg’s discoveries have been featured at numerous museums including the British Museum, London; Victorian Memorial Museum, Ottawa, Canada; and Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

Sternberg retired from Fort Hays State University at the age of 70 in 1961. He died October 23, 1969, in Hays. Fort Hays State University’s student geology club and the museum are both named in honor of the Sternberg family.

View primary sources related to George F. Sternberg in Kansas Memory.

Entry: Sternberg, George F.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2011

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.