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American Museum of Natural History

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in New York City is the largest natural history museum in the world. It displays more than 30 million specimens from all branches of natural history along with a wealth of anthropological artifacts in a vast complex of interconnected buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The museum was founded in 1869 by some of New York City's wealthiest men, who hoped a natural history museum would impart prestige to their city and educate the working classes about the laws of nature. As with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened in 1870, the American Museum of Natural History soon became one of the pet philanthropies of the New York aristocracy. While the municipality funded the operation and maintenance of the facilities, the wealthy trustees, including the Dodge, Huntington, Morgan, Rockefeller, Schiff, Vanderbilt, and Whitney families, were responsible for acquiring and managing the collections. This method of financing has continued, supplemented by endowments, membership dues, and entrance fees.

The museum was originally situated in the Arsenal Building in Central Park. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant laid the cornerstone for the museum's permanent home, which opened in 1877. As the collections steadily grew in size, the museum pioneered in dioramas and other lifelike displays that presented large or striking specimens of flora and fauna in their natural habitats. Most famously, by the early 1900s the museum had acquired the world's largest collection of dinosaur bones, which subsequently were mounted in exhibits that corrected previous errors in interpretation and presentation.

The museum conducts a wide range of educational activities for the public and publishes the monthly magazine Natural History. It also sponsors hundreds of working scientists, who continue the legacy of the researchers Carl Akeley, Roy Chapman Andrews, Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Henry Fairfield Osborn.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hellman, Geoffrey. Bankers, Bones, and Beetles: The First Century of the American Museum of Natural History. Garden City, N.Y.: Natural History Press, 1969.

Kennedy, John Michael. "Philanthropy and Science in New York City: The American Museum of Natural History, 1868–1968." Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1968.

Rainger, Ronald. An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1935. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.

Jonathan P.Spiro

See alsoPhilanthropy ; Science Museums .

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American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History, incorporated in New York City in 1869 to promote the study of natural science and related subjects. Buildings on its present site facing Central Park were opened in 1877. Among the buildings later added were the Hayden Planetarium (opened 1935) and the Roosevelt Memorial building (completed 1936). In 2000 the museum opened the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which contains a new, state-of-the-art Hayden Planetarium. The museum maintains exhibitions in all branches of natural history, including anthropology and ecology. As a result of its wide explorations throughout the world and its extensive research programs, it has acquired specimens and data of great value. Among the facilities for study are an extension library; illustrated lectures; publications; programs for young people; a special school service whereby the museum cooperates with city schools; circulating exhibits; habitat groups of animals and plants; a mineral and gem collection; an unrivaled assemblage of skeletons of extinct animals, especially dinosaurs; and replicas of invertebrates in glass. In 1995 the museum opened its extensively renovated dinosaur halls, which became the world's largest exhibit of its kind. Renovated halls of ocean life and of meteorites opened in 2003, and a new hall of human origins debuted in 2007.

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Natural History, American Museum of

American Museum of Natural History: see American Museum of Natural History.

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