On this day in 1881, Charles Darwin published The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms. He considered the work a more important accomplishment than his The Origin of Species (1859), which turned out to be one of the most influential and controversial books in history. Darwin, the privileged and well-connected son of a successful English doctor, had been interested in botany and natural sciences since his boyhood, despite the discouragement of his early teachers. At Cambridge, he found professors and scientists with similar interests and with their help began participating in scientific voyages, including the HMS Beagle‘s trip.
By the time Darwin returned, he had developed an outstanding reputation as a field researcher and scientific writer, based on his many papers and letters dispatched from South America and the Galapagos Islands, which were read at meetings of prominent scientific societies in London. Darwin began publishing studies of zoology and geology as soon as he returned from his voyage, while also secretly working on his radical theory of evolution. Knowing that scientists who had published radical theories before had been ostracized or worse, Darwin held off on publishing his theory of natural selection for nearly two decades. Meanwhile, he married and had seven children. He finally published The Origin of Species after another scientist began publishing papers with similar ideas. His book laid the groundwork for modern botany, cellular biology, and genetics. He died in 1882.