The First Indiana Jones

Roy Chapman Andrews had a very odd dream for a young boy roaming the hills of Wisconsin. He wanted to work for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. But his life exceeded even his wildest dreams and included dinosaurs, bandits, international fame, and a career so exciting he became the model for the swashbuckling archaeologist of the Indiana Jones movies.

The minute Andrews graduated from college in 1906, he headed for New York and offered to sweep the museum’s floors. Instead, the director gave him a job mixing clay and setting up the dramatic exhibits of elephants, lions, and other creatures stuffed and frozen into fierce postures. One thing led to another and soon the young, audacious Andrews was leading museum expeditions. He explored the forests of Korea and chased whales in the Pacific. He learned so much about whales that the museum asked him to help design and set up the internationally renowned blue whale skeleton that now hangs in the entry of the museum.

But he gained his greatest fame with a series of five expeditions he led into the Gobi Desert looking for dinosaur fossils. The major 1925 expedition included 40 men, eight cars, and 75 camels, used to stash food and fuel along the route. Andrews had to contend with heat, howling desert windstorms, and the constant threat of bandits. The dashing Andrews said of the bandits “they swarm like devouring locusts.”

His expeditions gained international acclaim and focused international attention on dinosaurs. He claimed to have found the first dinosaur eggs, although a French team later disputed his contention. He also found perfectly preserved in the desert sands the bones of the Baluchitherium, then thought to be the largest land mammal ever. He eventually became director of the museum he had volunteered to sweep. After a long and colorful career that made science an adventure for the public, he retired to write books, including In the Day of the Dinosaur, published in 1959 , the year before he died.