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Charles Darwin revolutionized they way we think about life on Earth. After a round the world five-year voyage, Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection. This theory could explain the reason there is such wide variation between living things and why living things are so well suited to their environments.

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Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in England on February 12, 1809. He was one of six children born into a wealthy family. Darwin’s father was a doctor and he went to follow in his father’s footsteps by enrolling at the medical school at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Darwin didn’t enjoy his studies and neglected them. Anesthetics hadn't been yet invented, so surgery was often not very nice to watch, let alone perform. Although Darwin didn’t leave Edinburgh with a degree, but he did leave with ideas, such as transmutation, from some radical science thinkers from the talks he went to. His father moved him from Edinburgh to Christ’s College, Cambridge. He started a degree in divinity with the plan of becoming a parson. While at Cambridge, he had plenty of spare time away from studying, which he used to hike and collect beetles. He graduated in 1831, but before he could take up a position in the church, he was offered another opportunity.

One of Darwin’s professors at Cambridge recommended Darwin to join a round the world expedition. He joined the expedition on the HMS Beagle as the ship’s naturalist. The voyage lasted five years from 1831 to 1836 and visited four continents. Darwin spent most of his time on land while the rest of the crew of the Beagle surveyed the coast. Darwin made careful observations and detailed notes of what he found. He also collected many specimens which he packed to bring back with him. One of the stops was a five week stop at the Galapágos Islands. While on the islands, he noted that there were different islands had species that were similar, but varied in order to be well adapted to their different environments.

When he returned, he started to write about his journey. He also spent a lot of time piecing together what he had observed. He noted that animals that are better suited to their environment can survive more easily and therefore, reproduce the next generation. He published his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 detailing his theory of evolution. This book was met with a large amount of criticism, especially from religious groups as it provided evidence that contradicted the creation of the world story from the Book of Genesis.

Darwin continued to study evolution and produced another book entitled, The Descent of Man which was published in 1871. In this book, he detailed his ideas about human evolution and how humans came to be as they are.

Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882 and was buried at Westminster Abbey in London, England.

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Darwin’s Significant Accomplishments

  • Five year round-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle
  • Theory of evolution by natural selection
  • Descent of Man, a controversial book about the evolution of humans

Charles Darwin Quotes

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

“I love fools' experiments. I am always making them.”

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Learn more about people who have influenced history in our Picture Encyclopedia!
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