American Museum of Natural History

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Biographical or Historical Note

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s preeminent scientific and cultural institutions. Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has advanced its global mission to discover, interpret, and disseminate information about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe through a wide-ranging program of scientific research, education, and exhibition. The Museum is renowned for its exhibitions and scientific collections, which serve as a field guide to the entire planet and present a panorama of the world's cultures.


    Library of Congress Name Authority File: n79006850
    "About Us." American Museum of Natural History website, accessed 2016 February 23.
    "History 1869-1900." American Museum of Natural History website, accessed 2016 February 23.
    "History 1901-1960." American Museum of Natural History website, accessed 2016 February 23.
    "History 1961-1990." American Museum of Natural History website, accessed 2016 February 23.
    "History 1991-Present." American Museum of Natural History website, accessed 2016 February 23.


  • 1869: Albert Smith Bickmore, one-time student of Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, is successful in his proposal to create a natural history museum in New York City, winning the support of William E. Dodge, Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., Joseph Choate, and J. Pierpont Morgan. The Governor of New York, John Thompson Hoffman, signs the Act of Incorporation officially creating the American Museum of Natural History on April 6. John David Wolfe becomes President of the Museum the same year.
  • 1871: A series of exhibits of the Museum's collection goes on view for the first time in the Central Park Arsenal, the Museum's original home on the eastern side of Central Park.
  • 1872: Robert L. Stuart becomes President of the Museum. The Museum quickly outgrows the Arsenal and secures Manhattan Square, a block of land across the street from Central Park, between West 77th and 81st Streets, to build a bigger facility. Although funds are only available for the construction of a relatively modest building, architects Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould prepare a monumental plan for the entire Manhattan Square site, to include an enormous five-story square with a Greek cross in the middle that would create four enclosed courts with a central octagonal crossing, covered with a dome.
  • 1874: The cornerstone for the Museum's first building at 77th Street is laid by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.
  • 1877: The first building opens with U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes presiding at a public ceremony.
  • 1881: New Museum President Morris K. Jesup launches the Museum into a golden age of exploration that lasts from 1880 to 1930. During this time, the Museum is involved with expeditions that discover the North Pole; explore unmapped areas of Siberia; traverse Outer Mongolia and the great Gobi; and penetrate the densest jungles of the Congo, taking Museum representatives to every continent on the globe.
  • 1895: President Jesup hires Franz Boas to be the assistant curator in the Department of Ethnology.
  • 1896: The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians opens on the first floor.
  • 1897 - 1902: Boas organizes the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. In the entire field of anthropology, nothing of comparable ambition or scope has ever before been attempted. The expedition yields an unparalleled record of the life and culture of the peoples of the North Pacific.
  • 1906: Boas leaves his position at the Museum and begins teaching at Columbia University. One of his students is Margaret Mead, the scientist, explorer, writer, and teacher who will work in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1926 until her death in 1978. A pioneer, she brings the serious work of anthropology into the public consciousness.
  • 1908: Museum President Morris K. Jesup dies. Henry Fairfield Osborn becomes President. Osborn is the first Museum president trained as a scientist.
  • 1913: Carl Akeley, a pioneer in the creation of lifelike mammal dioramas, writes to Osborn offering to devote five years to the creation of an African Mammals Hall at the Museum. Osborn agrees.
  • 1920 - 1929: Roy Chapman Andrews leads the historic Central Asiatic Expeditions through the Gobi of Mongolia, discovering some of the richest dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Andrews and his team work there until the border between China and Outer Mongolia closes in 1930.
  • 1926: The Museum receives an extensive gift of mammals from the Indian subcontinent, the result of an expedition led by Arthur S. Vernay and Colonel J. C. Faunthorpe. Work soon begins on designing a fitting environment for these specimens, which will be mounted according to Akeley’s technique and displayed in dioramas.
  • 1930: The first major hall of mammal habitat dioramas, the South Asiatic Hall, opens, displaying Vernay and Faunthorpe’s gift of specimens.
  • 1933: F. Trubee Davison becomes President of the Museum. A. Perry Osborn becomes Acting President from 1941–1946, after which Davison resumes his position.
  • 1933: The Hall of Ocean Life opens on the first floor. The hall is renovated in 1969 to include a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling.
  • 1935: Legendary dinosaur explorer Roy Chapman Andrews becomes Director of the Museum.
  • 1935: The Hayden Planetarium opens.
  • 1936: Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall and Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda open.
  • 1936 - 1963: Built in stages between 1936 and 1963, the Hall of North American Mammals showcases what many consider to be the finest habitat dioramas in the world.
  • 1942: The Hall of North American Mammals opens on the first floor with 10 dioramas.
  • 1942: The Akeley Hall of African Mammals opens under the direction of James L. Clark, the Museum’s Vice Director. Artists and scientists, led by Carl Akeley, had gone to Africa to sketch, photograph, collect, measure, and make molds of leaves, bark, moss, and other aspects of the terrain to make the dioramas as accurate as possible.
  • 1951: Alexander M. White becomes President of the Museum.
  • 1957: Hall of North American Forests opens on the first floor.
  • 1958: The Hall of North American Mammals reopens.
  • 1960: The Great Canoe exhibit is installed near the 77th Street entrance.
  • 1963: The Hall of North American Small Mammals opens on the first floor.
  • 1964: Hall of Primates opens on the third floor.
  • 1966: The Hall of Eastern Woodlands Indians opens on the third floor.
  • 1967: The Hall of Plains Indians opens on the third floor.
  • 1967: The Museum’s exterior is designated an official New York City Landmark.
  • 1968: Gardner D. Stout becomes President of the Museum.
  • 1968: The Hall of African Peoples opens on the second floor.
  • 1970: The Hall of Mexico and Central America opens on the second floor.
  • 1971: The Hall of Pacific Peoples opens on the third floor, reopens as Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples in 1984.
  • 1972: The Frederick H. Leonhardt People Center opens on the second floor.
  • 1973: Gallery 3, a special-exhibition space on the third floor, is completed.
  • 1973: The Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians opens on the third floor.
  • 1974: The Louis Calder Laboratory and the Alexander M. White Natural Science Center are completed on the second floor.
  • 1975: Robert G. Goelet becomes President of the Museum.
  • 1975: The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda on the Museum’s second floor is designated an Interior Landmark.
  • 1976: The Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals open on the first floor.
  • 1980: The Gardner D. Stout Hall of Asian Peoples opens on the second floor.
  • 1981: The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites opens on the first floor.
  • 1983: The Charles A. Dana Education Wing is completed.
  • 1988: George D. Langdon, Jr., becomes President of the Museum.
  • 1989: The Hall of South American Peoples opens on the second floor. The original South American hall opened in 1907 and closed in the 1960s.
  • 1991: The Mongolian Academy of Sciences invites the Museum to take part in a joint paleontological expedition to the Gobi, the first such expedition to include Western scientists since the Central Asiatic Expedition in the 1920s. These joint expeditions now take place annually.
  • 1991: A five-story-high Barosaurus cast is installed in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, becoming the world’s highest freestanding dinosaur display.
  • 1992: The Research Library's new facility opens.
  • 1992: The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation is established.
  • 1992: The Hall of Human Biology and Evolution opens on the first floor.
  • 1996: Major renovations are completed on the fossil halls on the fourth floor of the Museum. Openings during this period include: the Hall of Primitive Mammals, the Paul and Irma Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals, the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center, and the Hall of Vertebrate Origins.
  • 1996: Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space begins.
  • 1997: The National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology is created, in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • 1998: The Hall of Biodiversity opens on the first floor.
  • 1999: The David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth on the first floor is the first component of the Rose Center to open. The customized one-of-a-kind Zeiss Star Projector (Mark IX), the most advanced in the world, is installed in the new Hayden Planetarium.The C. V. Starr Natural Science Building opens.
  • 2000: The Frederick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space opens to the public. The Arthur Ross Terrace opens adjacent to the Rose Center.
  • 2001: The Judy and Josh Weston Pavilion opens, adding an entrance to the Museum on Columbus Avenue. The Discovery Room opens on the first floor.
  • 2002: The Museum opens the renovated Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Theater. The Museum's main auditorium, restored to its late 19th-century design by Josiah Cleaveland Cady, is a venue for scientific lectures, meetings, public programs, and large-format films
  • 2003: The Museum opens the restored and renovated Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, which features high-definition video projections, interactive computer stations, hands-on models, 14 renovated classic dioramas, and eight new ocean ecosystem displays. The centerpiece of the hall remains the 94-foot model of a blue whale, now resculpted and repainted to more accurately reflect the appearance of a blue whale at sea. The Museum opens the reconceptualized and renovated Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. New exhibits, rare Moon and Mars rocks, and over 130 scientifically significant meteorites tell the story of the origins of the solar system.
  • June 2004: The Museum installs a new Earthquake Monitoring Station in the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. The seismograph records and illustrates real-time seismic data for the public via a global network of seismic stations accessible in real-time to the Museum and other similar institutions.
  • 2005: The Museum marks the 70th Anniversary of the opening of the original Hayden Planetarium.
  • 2006: The Museum hosts the premiere of the movie A Night at the Museum, based on the Museum and starring Ben Stiller, Mickey Rooney, and Dick Van Dyke. Afterward, the Museum inaugurates Night at the Museum Sleepovers for families and groups with children ages 6 to 13.
  • 2007: The Museum opens the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, which presents comprehensive evidence of human evolution. The new hall explores the most profound mysteries of humankind: who we are, where we came from, and what is in store for the future of the human species.
  • 2009: The Museum completes a major renovation and restoration project of the landmark 77th Street "castle" facade. The project included the repair and cleaning of masonry along the entire 700-foot-long south side and the complete reconstruction of the 42-foot wide arch of the porte-cochere. A separate but related project included the re-design and restoration of the 77th Street entry court, the new Arthur Ross Plaza.

Written by: Iris Lee
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