History of New York’s American Museum Of Natural History

History of the American Museum Of Natural History

Photo: Suicasmo, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Its 26 interconnected buildings are housed in Theodore Roosevelt Park, and is across the street from Central Park. The structures are home to 45 permanent exhibition rooms, a library and a planetarium. The museum is considered to be one of the largest natural history museums on the planet. Its own history dates back more than 200 years. The museum’s original home was Central Park’s Arsenal Building. The current facilities were approved in a bill signed in April 1869 that officially created the American Museum of Natural History. The bill was developed by Doctor Albert S. Bickmore, and American naturalist, and was supported by city governor John Thompson Hoffman, Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and more than 20 other well-known businessmen and politicians who founded the organization.

Construction began in 1874 and the first building was completed three years later. The Victorian Gothic structure was designed by architects J. Wrey Mould and Calvert Vaux. Additional buildings, renovations and restorations would be added over the next several decades.

History of the American Museum Of Natural History

Photo by Aditya Vyas

The following is an alphabetical list of the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit halls and the history and facts behind them:

Akeley Hall of African Mammals

This two-story hall was named for American taxidermist Carl Akeley. It’s right behind the Theodore Roosevelt rotunda and has 28 impressive dioramas that showcase African mammals and their ecosystems. Unfortunately, many of the mammals highlighted in this section have since become endangered. However, none of their species have become extinct. The Akeley Hall of African Mammals directly connects to the Hall of African Peoples.

History of the American Museum Of Natural History

Photo: Upstateherd, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites

The hall has some of the most impressive meteor specimens in the world. It is home to the Willamette Meteorite, which was discovered in Oregon and was acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in 1906. The meteorite is primarily composed of iron and nickel and weighs just over 34,000 pounds. The hall also has a portion of the Cape York meteorite and an assortment of extra-solar nano diamonds. These diamonds’ dimensions are measured in nanometers. Some of them are over 5 billion years old.

Bernard and Anne Spitzer Hall of Human Origins

This section was first known as the Hall of the Age of Man when it was completed in 1921. The hall was later known as the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution until it was given its present name in 2007. The center was the only significant exhibition in the United States that took a comprehensive look at human evolution when it first opened. The hall has reproductions of primitive cave drawings, limestone carvings of horses that are more than 25,000 years old and human fossils, some of which date back more than 3 million years.

Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals

The Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals opened in 1942. The collection began with ten dioramas which gradually expanded over the years to 43 unique exhibits. There are Alaskan bull moose and brown bears, Sonoran jaguars, wolves and other animals on display.

David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth

This hall is dedicated to the history of our planet. There are dioramas that focus on Earth’s geology, volcanology, atmospheric science and glaciology. The hall also has exhibits that simulate plate tectonics, as well as several rocks made from iron, lava, granite, sandstone and other natural materials that visitors can see and touch.

Exhibitions Lab

The Exhibitions Lab has hosted thousands of exhibits since its creation in 1869. More than sixty designers, programmers, writers and other artists prepare the hall’s exhibitions. Recent productions have showcased how humans affect climate change, the extinction of many lifeforms during the Mesozoic area due to an asteroid’s impact and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Fossil Halls

The following fossil halls occupy the museum’s fourth floor:

The Hall of Advanced Mammals

The Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs (a classification of dinosaurs that were mainly herbivorous)

The Hall of Primitive Mammals

The Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (a division of dinosaurs primarily known for their long necks and hands and downward-facing pubis bone. They were considered to be ancestors of many current bird species.)

The Hall of Vertebrate Origins

Most of the museum’s fossil collections are not made available for public viewing. However, visitors can admire the tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus, stegosaurus, allosaurus and triceratops skeletons that are on display. Some of these and other exhibits in the fossil halls have been part of the museum’s inventory for almost 100 years.

Hall of African Peoples

The Hall of African Peoples is just below the Sanford Hall of North American Birds and behind the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. It is divided into Desert, Forest-Woodland, Grasslands and River Valley, which are Africa’s four primary ecosystems. Exhibits and artifacts native to the inhabits of each ecosystem are displayed, along with several spiritual costumes and three dioramas.

Hall of Asian Mammals

The Hall of Asian Mammals is also known as the Vernay-Faunthorpe Hall of Asian Mammals. The one-story hall is located just to the left of the Theodore Roosevelt rotunda. There are four partial dioramas and eight complete dioramas. The hall also has six mammal habitat groups from Burma, Nepal, Malaysia and India.

Hall of Birds of the World

This hall has a dozen dioramas showcasing birds from various corners of the globe. There are Australian cockatoos and honeyeaters, skuas and King penguins from the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia, East African bustards and secretary birds and more on display. A dozen dioramas are available for spectators to admire.

Hall of Eastern Woodlands Indians

The Hall of Eastern Woodlands Indians highlights several Native American Tribes that occupied the eastern United States during the 17th through 19th centuries. Artifacts and histories of the Ojibwe, Cree, Iroquois, Mohegan and other similar tribes are on display.

Hall of Mexico and Central America

The Hall of Mexico and Central America opened in 1899. It’s a single-story hall just ahead of the Hall of South American Peoples and behind Birds of the World. Artifacts left behind by the Aztec, Olmec, Maya and Zapotec Native American tribes are on display in this section.

Hall of North American Forests

This hall was developed under the direction of botanist Henry K. Svenson, It first opened to the public in 1959. The Hall of North American Forests is a single story hall on the first floor of the museum between the Wartburg Hall of New York State Environments and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall. Inside the center are tree health and forest conservation displays and ten dioramas showing various types of North American forests.

Hall of Northwest Coast Indians

The hall was originally named the Jesup North Pacific Hall when it opened to the public in 1900. The single-story hall is on the first floor of the museum, in between the Spitzer and Warburg Halls. The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians has plenty of exhibits and artifacts from Native American tribest that once resided in parts of British Columbia, Northern Washington and Southern Alaska.

Hall of Plains Indians

The Hall of Plains Indians concentrates on 19th Century residents of the North American Great Plains. Artifacts in this area represent the Hidatsa, Blackfeet and Dakota Native American tribes. Part of the collection includes a Folsom stone projectile point that has aided historians in proving the existence of early colonization of the Americas.

Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians

The exhibits in this area concentrate on herpetology. Reptile anatomy, behavior, evolution and reproduction are featured in this collection. The section has poison dart frogs, Komodo dragons, an American alligator and Lonesome George, the last Galapagos tortoise from Ecuador’s Pinta Island on display.

Hall of Small Mammals

This hall branched out from the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals. A wolverine, an Albert’s squirrel, collared peccaries and other smaller animals are represented in realistic dioramas in this section.

Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals

This hall opened in 1976, after six years of planning, development and construction. It is home to more than 100,000 unique geological artifacts. Some of the more memorable items in the collection include the Star of India (the largest star sapphire ever discovered); the 12 sided, 632 carat Patricia Emerald and a 116.75 carat star ruby known as the Midnight Star.

Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples

This section was originally known as the Hall of Pacific Peoples, It first opened in 1971. The hall was later renamed the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples in 1984 to honor the well-known anthropologist.

Millstein Hall of Ocean Life

This multi-level hall was the brainchild of museum president Henry F. Osborn in 1910. He envisioned a large building to hold “models and skeletons of whales” in the southeast courtyard of the museum’s land. The hall has undergone several changes and renovations over the decades. It now concentrates on marine conservation, botany and marine biology.

Research Library

The Research Library is located on the fourth floor of the museum. It is open to visitors and staff year round. Their unique collections date back to the 15th Century. There are items on planetary science, astrophysics, astronomy, paleontology, biological sciences and many more subjects in their vast inventory.

Rose Center for Earth and Space / Hayden Planetarium

The Rose Center for Earth and Space also includes the Hayden Planetarium. The original planetarium was first opened in 1935 before it was torn down and replaced by the Frederick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space in 2000. The current facility includes a glass cube six stories high that encases an 87 foot lighted sphere. The sphere is supported by trusses, giving the illusion that the large ball is floating through the air.

Sanford Hall of North American Birds

The Sanford Hall of North American Birds is a single story hall. It’s located on the museum’s third floor, in between the second story of Akeley’s Hall and the Hall of Primates and right above the Hall of African Peoples. Sanford Hall opened in 1909. Its exhibits were the first to be displayed to the general public. Some of the hall’s 25 dioramas of native birds are still some the American Museum of Natural History’s oldest pieces.

Stout Hall of Asian Peoples

The Stout Hall of Asian Peoples first opened in 1980. It was named after former museum president Gardner D. Stout and was organized by museum archaeologist Dr. Walter A. Fairservis. The second-story hall has the museum’s largest anthropologic collections of artifacts gathered from the 1870’s to the 1970’s. The Stout Hall of Asian Peoples is divided into the larger Traditional Asia section and the smaller Ancient Eurasia section. The area is highlighted by full-scale dioramas, miniature dioramas and reproductions of archaeological sites.

Warburg Hall of New York State Environments

This one-story hall opened in 1951. It is located on the first floor of the museum, right between the Grand Hall and the Hall of North American Forests. The area was modeled after the nearby Stissing Mountain and the city of Pine Plains in Dutchess County, New York. Exhibits on seasonal changes, different types of soil and how humans and animals affect the local environment are on display.

Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds

This hall was founded in 1953 by museum volunteers Leonard C. Sanford and Frank Chapman. Birds of paradise and other exotic species are featured in this section. Museum staff traveled to the Marianas Islands, New Zealand and Fiji to gather birds for this diverse collection.

History of New York’s American Museum Of Natural History: Wrap Up

The American Museum of Natural History is easily accessible by subway, train, car, bike and foot. The museum has been part of popular culture for generations. It was featured in J.D. Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye as well as in the Night at the Museum series of movies and popular television shows such as Mad About You, Friends and How I Met Your Mother.

Visitors are welcome to view exhibits in person during normal operating hours. Virtual tours of the facilities are also available. Scholars can participate in several outreach programs that are available, and the museum also offers a PhD in Comparative Biology and a Master of Arts in Science Teaching. Both advanced degree programs are offered through the organization’s Richard Gilder Graduate School .

History, archaeology and science buffs can find plenty of things to explore at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Exhibits, dioramas and other displays change on a regular basis, so be sure to visit their website to see. Suggested donations are accepted and additional charges may apply for certain exhibits and screenings. The museum is a great place to spend a day with family and friends, no matter if you’re a long-time city resident or just visiting from out of town. It can definitely give a person a better perspective and understanding of the world around them.

1917 Picture of New York’s American Museum Of Natural History

History of the American Museum Of Natural History

Photo:Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

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