Vintage Wisconsin: Birthday Wishes To Wisconsin’s Own Indiana Jones

Celebrated Beloit-Born Explorer Was Born This Week In 1884

Roy Chapman Andrews feeds baby eagles in Mongolia
Source: American Museum of Natural History

In the above image, Roy Chapman Andrews feeds baby eagles at his camp in Mongolia in 1928. Andrews, Wisconsin’s own Indiana Jones, celebrates his birthday this week.

Trotting the globe in search of adventure, Andrews battled blistering sandstorms and fended off deadly snakes in adventurous pursuit of science. Born in Beloit on Jan. 26, 1884, he once said he was “born to be an explorer.” Using money saved from his job as a taxidermist, Andrews paid for his education at Beloit College. He then hopped a train for New York City after graduation in 1906.

He applied for a job at the American Museum of Natural History but was told there were no jobs available. So, Andrews volunteered to scrub the museum’s floors. He must have been done one heck of a job with those floors because he rose quickly through the ranks and was soon leading expeditions that took him around the world.

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Andrews became most famous for his work in the Gobi Desert in the 1920s. Expecting to find the “missing link” for human evolution, he instead uncovered a wealth of mammal and dinosaur fossils, including dinosaur eggs. It was a find that proved how dinosaurs reproduced.

Besides fossils, Andrews also found a wealth of excitement and danger. He survived encounters with armed bandits, hungry sharks, and most Indiana Jones-like of all, dozens of poisonous pit vipers. Andrews later admitted to being so frightened that he screamed when he stepped on a coil of what he thought was a snake. It turned out to be rope. In the course of his life, Andrews was mistakenly reported dead more than once.

Political instability ended Andrews’ work in the Gobi, and in 1934, he became director of the American Museum of Natural History.

Andrews is widely believed to be the model for movie legend Indiana Jones. Although George Lucas never specifically cited Andrews or anyone else, Andrews’ life certainly makes a strong case. Andrews was one of the most famous explorers of the time and his discoveries featured in movie serials. He also looked the part – Andrews always wore a hat and carried a revolver.

In 1942, Andrews left the museum and, fortunately for us, spent the rest of his life writing about his expeditions.