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150th Anniversary of publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species

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Charles Darwin

and the

Theory of Evolution



Charles Darwin’s seminal book, On the Origin of Species, changed the way we see the world. Darwin’s theories on evolution and the natural selection of species were his, but his family background helped pave the way. Born February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, he developed an early interest in the natural world because his father and grandfather, both well-off physicians, were scientifically curious.

Charles’ youth was full of nature study, but he was a mediocre student. He dropped medical studies, began to study for the clergy, but was side-tracked by an offer from one of his naturalist mentors to join the HMS Beagle on a surveying voyage around the world. During his five years at sea (1831-1836), Darwin collected thousands of specimens. It was not until he returned home and began studying what he had found—especially items from the Galapagos Islands—that he began to form his famous theory.

Upon his return, Darwin married his cousin Emma and, at their Down House estate, they created a large and loving family, with eight of their ten children living past infancy. He rarely left the confines of his estate because of ill health. Some say it was because of problems resulting from the Beagle voyage. Others say it was the stress of his “dangerous idea,” especially as it conflicted with society's strong religious beliefs, including those of his wife.

At Down House, Darwin spent his life studying, writing, and corresponding with the scientific luminaries of his time. Geology, barnacles, pigeons, sexual selection, bees, orchids, seed viability—he studied and wrote about so many aspects of the natural world.  And he continued to craft his great theory.

After more than 20 years of considering publication of his theory of evolution and natural selection, the issue came to a head. Darwin learned that another scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, was about to publish on the same subject. Finally, on November 24, 1859, 150 years ago, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published. And our view of the world has not been the same since.