Meet our State Dinosaur—Hadrosaurus foulkii. He was the first nearly complete dinosaur fossil to be found in the world!
New Jersey officially recognizes 1664 as the year the state was founded when land owned by the Duke of York was given to Sir George Carteret and John Lord Berkeley. That transaction record proclaimed that “said Tract of Land is hereafter to be called by the name or names of New Cesarea or New Jersey.” That makes this year New Jersey’s 350th Anniversary! To celebrate this major milestone, we’ve undertaken a project we’re calling 35 New Jersey Firsts where we highlight 35 things that first came to life in New Jersey.
It wasn’t just a random choice when New Jersey picked the Hadrosaurus as our State Dinosaur. The Hadrosaurus foulkii was, in fact, the first nearly complete dinosaur fossil to be found in the world. And, it was found in Haddonfield! In 1858, an amateur fossil hunter named William Parker Foulke was vacationing in Haddonfield and heard that workers had found giant bones in a pit of calcium carbonite type clay called marl nearby. The marl was used by local farmers as fertilizer. Foulke spent several months supervising the excavation of the pit before he and his workers found the giant bones.
The finding of a nearly complete set of bones to one of these giant creatures set the scientific world on its ear. Theories about dinosaurs had existed for years but nothing was ever found that provided definitive proof that they really existed. That was until Mr. Foulke found his dinosaur in Haddonfield.
Our State Dinosaur wasn’t officially named until 1991, despite this amazing history. In 1988, fourth grade teacher Joyce Berry was teaching her classes about dinosaurs as well as the functions of the state government. She launched a project to get Hadrosaurus named as our State Dinosaur. It took three years but finally in 1991, Governor Jim Florio signed the Official Dinosaur bill into law with Mrs. Berry and her students watching in the rotunda of the State House.
What a great part of New Jersey history!
For more information on this fascinating story, we highly recommend you check out Hadrosaurus.com as well as the detailed history of Foulke’s find at Hoag Levin’s Finding the World’s First Dinosaur Skeleton.
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