American Museum of Natural History Founded (1869)

The 2006 movie, “A Night at the Museum” introduced people around the world to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  But the real museum is even more spectacular than the special effects of the movie—and has been for nearly 150 years.

The governor of New York signed the museum into existence on April 6, 1869.  The mission, then and now, is straightforward:  “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.”

The founders wasted little time acting on their mission.  Within two years, specimens from the museum went on exhibit at an existing building, inside Central Park.  Almost immediately, that building provided insufficient, and a new site across the street from the park spanning four city blocks was purchased.  The cornerstone for the first museum building was laid in 1974 by President Grant, and the building opened in 1877.  Since then, it has been expanded repeatedly, with now 25 inter-connected buildings offering 570,000 square feet of exhibit space.

American Museum of Natural History, 1917

To fulfill its mission, the museum began sponsoring expeditions throughout the world, a “golden age of exploration that last[ed] from 1880-1930.”  Explorers sponsored by the museum discovered the North Pole, trekked across Siberia, Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, and reached the unknown interior of African jungles.  And that drive to explore continues today—during 2016, the museum sponsored 93 expeditions covering all seven continents.

The fruits of those expeditions have yielded a treasure of knowledge about our world and artifacts.  The museum has the largest collection of natural history objects in the world, now well over 34 million in total.  Included is the world’s most comprehensive and scientifically important collection of fossils, especially dinosaurs (one of which is exhibited in a soaring space that is the highest free-standing dinosaur skeleton in the world).

The museum was an early pioneer of anthropological research and collections.  Today “natural history” might mean wild animals and plants, but when the museum began the term also meant learning about the world’s human cultures.  The museum hired Franz Boas and sent him on an expedition of unparalleled scope to chronicle the culture of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest.  He was followed by Margaret Mead, who worked for the museum for most of her career while studying the people of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia—and originating the modern science of cultural anthropology.

The museum also pioneered the display of animal specimens in their natural environments—the dioramas so common today in museums.  The pioneer of this display method was Carl Ackeley, who began building displays for the museum in 1913.  Those displays were—and are—renowned for their ecological accuracy and their artistic mastery.

Rhinoceros exhibit at American Museum of Natural History, created by Carl Akeley (photo by Larry Nielsen)

The American Museum of Natural History has remained at the forefront of science education.  It continues to renovate its displays to incorporate new knowledge, technologies and interactivity.  Nearly 5 million visitors pass through the exhibits annually, along with others that view traveling exhibits and participate on-line (not to mention the viewers of those night-at-the-museum movies!).

References:

American Museum of Natural History.  2016 Annual Report.  Available at:  https://www.scribd.com/document/367739575/AMNH-Annual-Report-2016#download&from_embed.  Accessed April 6, 2018.

American Museum of Natural History.  History.  Available at:  https://www.amnh.org/about-the-museum/history.  Accessed April 6, 2018.

NYC-Arts.  American Museum of Natural History.  Available at:  https://www.nyc-arts.org/organizations/54/american-museum-of-natural-history.  Accessed April 6, 2018

This Month in Conservation

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
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