Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927) was born in New York Mills, New York. He attended Utica public schools and the Utica Academy, but never graduated or pursued further education. He had an early interest in natural history, and began his professional career in 1876 when he was appointed as an assistant to James Hall, New York's state geologist. In 1879, he joined the newly formed United States Geological Survey (USGS) as an assistant geologist. Shortly after his appointment, Walcott began to do field work in Utah. Field work would continue to define his life, and later sites included the Appalachians, New England, New York, several Mid-Atlantic states, western and southwestern United States, and eastern Canada. From 1882 to 1893 he worked with the Survey's invertebrate Paleozoic paleontological collections, and in 1893 he was appointed Geologist in charge of Geology and Paleontology. He also served as an honorary curator of invertebrate Paleozoic fossils at the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1892 to 1907, and as Acting Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in charge of the USNM from 1897 to 1898. In 1894 Walcott was appointed Director of the USGS and served until 1907 when he resigned from the USGS and was appointed Secretary of the Smithsonian, a position he would remain at until his death.
During Walcott's administration at the Smithsonian he oversaw the completion of the National Museum Building (now the National Museum of Natural History) in 1911. He also convinced Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer to donate his extensive Asian art collection and money for a building during his lifetime rather than after Freer's death, as was originally intended. He also set up the National Gallery of Art (predecessor to the Smithsonian American Art Museum) as a separate administrative entity in 1920.
Despite his responsibilities as Secretary, Walcott found time to continue his research and collecting of fossils from the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, with primary focus on the Canadian Rockies. In 1909 he located Cambrian fossils near Burgess Pass above Field, British Columbia. The following season he discovered the Burgess shale fauna, which proved to be his greatest paleontological discovery.
In 1872, Walcott married Lura Ann Rust. Their marriage was relatively short, as Rust died in 1876 from an undiagnosed illness. In 1888, he married Helena Stevens. Charles and Helena had three children: Charles Doolittle (born 1889), Sidney Stevens (born 1892), Helen Breese (born 1894), and Benjamin Stuart (born 1896). Helena and the children often accompanied Charles on fieldwork excursions. Unfortunately, in 1911 Helena was killed in a train accident in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Charles Doolittle Walcott Jr. (often referred to as "Charlie") died in 1913 while a student at Yale University, after suffering from multiple severe ear infections. In 1917, Benjamin Stuart (often referred to as Stuart), was killed in action while serving as a pilot in the l'Escadrille de Lafayette in France during World War I. In 1914, Walcott married Mary Morris Vaux, an accomplished naturalist. In 1925, the Smithsonian published her illustrations of American wildflowers in five volumes. Also in 1925, Helen Breese Walcott married Cole Younger. On February 9, 1927, Charles D. Walcott passed away.
For a more detailed history of Charles D. Walcott, please see Record Unit 7004: Charles D. Walcott Collection 1851-1940 and undated.