Detail map of Washington, District of Columbia, United States Overview map of Washington, District of Columbia, United States

A: Washington, District of Columbia, United States

"Ridgway Colors," a Color System for Bird Identification


In 1912 American ornithologist Robert Ridgway self-published in Washington, D.C. Color Standards and Nomenclature. This evolved out of his 1886 book, A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists, and Compendium of Useful Knowledge for Ornithologists, which was one of the first color systems for bird identification.

"Ridgway was with the Smithsonian Institution from the age of 24 until his death. In 1912 he printed 5,000 copies of his book Color Standards and Nomenclature, one of the most influential works on color ever published. This was prompted by his problems with color descriptions in bird portraits. So he developed descriptions of 1,150 colors as well as the technology for making and printing them all; his wife cut all the color swatches by hand and pasted them into the books. In providing a textual description he used very colorful language--deep turtle green, clean fluoride green, malachite green, shamrock green, light Danube green, deep dull green. The books are historic artifacts in and of themselves. But it's important to note that the book is still very much in use. Everyone from stamp collectors to naturalists to chemists refers to 'Ridway colors' to identify specific shades"  (Daniel Lewis, "In Living Color. A Conversation with the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science & Technology" by Traude Gomez-Rhine, Huntington Frontiers IV, #2 [2008] 7)

Timeline Themes