American Museum of

American Museum of

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

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), located on the Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, USA, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world. Located on park-like grounds, the museum comprises 25 interconnected buildings that house 46 permanent exhibition halls, research laboratories, and its renowned library. The collections contain over 32 million specimens of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time. The museum has a scientific staff of more than 200, and sponsors over 100 special field expeditions each year.


The famous museum was founded in 1869. Prior to construction of the present complex, the museum was housed in the old Arsenal building in Central Park. Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the father of the 26th U.S. President, was one of the founders along with John David Wolfe, William T. Blodgett, Robert L. Stuart, Andrew H. Green, Robert Colgate, Morris K. Jesup, Benjamin H. Field, D. Jackson Steward, Richard M. Blatchford, J. Pierpont Morgan, Adrian Iselin, Moses H. Grinnell, Benjamin B. Sherman, A. G. Phelps Dodge, William A. Haines, Charles A. Dana, Joseph H. Choate, Henry G. Stebbins, Henry Parish, and Howard Potter. The founding of the Museum realized the dream of naturalist Dr. Albert S. Bickmore. Bickmore, a one-time student of Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, lobbied tirelessly for years for the establishment of a natural history museum in New York. His proposal, backed by his powerful sponsors, won the support of the Governor of New York, John Thompson Hoffman, who signed a bill officially creating the American Museum of Natural History on April 6, 1869.

In 1874, ground was broken for the museum's first building which is now hidden from view by the many buildings in the complex that today occupy most of Manhattan Square. The original neo-Gothic building(1874–1877), by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, who were collaborating with Frederick Law Olmsted in structures for Central Park, was soon eclipsed by the South range of the museum, by J. Cleaveland Cady, a robust exercise in rusticated brownstone neo-Romanesque, influenced by H. H. Richardson. It extends along West 77th Street, with corner towers tall. Its pink brownstone and granite came from quarries at Grindstone Island in the St. Lawrence River and Picton Island, New York. A triumphal Roman entrance on Central Park West, the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt completed by John Russell Pope in 1936, is an overscaled Beaux-Arts monument. It leads to a vast Roman basilica, where a cast of a skeleton of a rearing Barosaurus defending her young from an Allosaurus is not lost in the general monumentality. Recently the museum's 77th street foyer, renamed the 'Grand Gallery' has been redone in gleaming white and is illuminated by classic Romanesque fixtures. The famous Haida canoe is now fully suspended, giving the appearance that it is floating above the viewer. The hall offers a dramatic entrance way to the hall of North West Coast Indians, the oldest extant exhibit in the museum.

On October 29, 1964, the Star of India, along with several other precious gems including the Eagle Diamond and the de Long Ruby, was stolen from the museum by several thieves. The group of burglars, which included Jack Murphy, gained entrance by climbing through a bathroom window they had unlocked hours before the museum was closed. The Star of India and other gems were later recovered from a locker in a Miami bus station, but the Eagle Diamond was never found; it may have been recut or lost.

Famous names associated with the museum include the paleontologist and geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, president for many years; the dinosaur-hunter of the Gobi Desert, Roy Chapman Andrews (one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones); George Gaylord Simpson; biologist Ernst Mayr; pioneer cultural anthropologists Franz Boas and Margaret Mead; and ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy. J. P. Morgan was also among the famous benefactors of the Museum. The philanthropist Harry Payne Whitney financed the Whitney South Seas Expedition (1920-1932) for the Museum, greatly expanding its collection of biological and anthropological specimens from the south-west Pacific region.


From its founding in 1880, the Library of the American Museum of Natural History has grown into one of the world's great natural history collections. In its early years, the Library expanded its collection mostly through such gifts as the John C. Jay conchological library, the Carson Brevoort library on fishes and general zoology, the ornithological library of Daniel Giraud Elliot, the Harry Edwards entomological library, the Hugh Jewett collection of voyages and travel and the Jules Marcou geology collection. In 1903 the American Ethnological Society deposited its library in the Museum and in 1905 the New York Academy of Sciences followed suit by transferring its collection of 10,000 volumes. Today, the Library's collections contain over 450,000 volumes of monographs, serials, pamphlets and reprints, microforms, and original illustrations, as well as film, photographic, archives and manuscripts, fine art, memorabilia and rare book collections. The Library collects materials covering such subjects as mammalogy, geology, anthropology, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, paleontology, ethology, ornithology, mineralogy, invertebrates, systematics, ecology, oceanography, conchology, exploration and travel, history of science, museology, bibliography, and peripheral biological sciences. The collection is rich in retrospective materials - some going back to the 15th century - that are difficult to find elsewhere.


The museum boasts habitat groups of African, Asian and North American mammals, the full-size model of a Blue Whale suspended in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life (reopened in 2003), the 62 foot (19 m) Haida carved and painted war canoe from the Pacific Northwest, a massive 34 ton piece of the Cape York meteorite, and the "Star of India", the largest blue sapphire in the world. The circuit of an entire floor is devoted to vertebrate evolution.

The museum has extensive anthropological collections: Asian Peoples, Pacific Peoples, Man in Africa, Native Americans in the United States collections, general Native American collections, and collections from Mexico and Central America.

The Hayden Planetarium, connected to the museum, is now part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space, housed in a glass cube containing the spherical Space Theater, designed by James Stewart Polshek. The Heilbrun Cosmic Pathway, is one of the more popular exhibits in the Rose Center. The Center was opened February 19, 2000.

Human Biology and Evolution

The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, formerly The Hall of Human Biology and Evolution, opened on February 10, 2007. , Originally known under the name "Hall of the Age of Man", it is located on the first floor of the museum. It was the only major exhibit in the United States to present an in-depth investigation of human evolution. The displays traced the story of Homo sapiens, displayed the path of human evolution and examined the origins of human creativity.

Many of the celebrated displays from the original hall can still be viewed in the present expanded format. These include life-size dioramas of our human predecessors Australopithecus afarensis, Homo ergaster, Neanderthal, and Cro-Magnon, showing each species demonstrating the behaviors and capabilities that scientists believe they were cabable of. Also displayed are full-sized casts of important fossils, including the 3.2-million-year-old "Lucy" skeleton and the 1.7-million-year-old "Turkana Boy," and Homo erectus specimens including a cast of "Peking Man."

The hall also features replicas of ice age art found in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. The limestone carvings of horses were made nearly 26,000 years ago and are considered to represent the earliest artistic expression of humans.

Halls of Minerals and Gems

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals is a vast, darkened room in which hundreds of unusual and rare specimens glow under brilliant spotlights. It adjoins the Morgan Memorial Hall of gems, which contains a variety of rare displays.

On display are many renowned pieces that are chosen from among the museum's more than 100,000 specimens. Included among these are the Patricia Emerald, a 632 carat (126 g), 12 sided stone that is considered to be one of the world's most fabulous emeralds. It was discovered during the 1920s in a mine high in the Colombian Andes and was named for the mine-owner's daughter. The Patricia is one of the few, large, gem quality emeralds that remains uncut. Also on display is the 563 carat (113 g) Star of India, the largest, and most famous, star sapphire in the world. It was discovered over 300 years ago in Sri Lanka, most likely in the sands of ancient river beds from where star sapphires continue to be found today. It was donated to the museum by the financier J.P. Morgan. The thin, radiant, six pointed 'star', or 'asterism', is created by incoming light that reflects from needle-like crystals of the mineral rutile which are found within the sapphire. The Star of India is polished into the shape of a cabochon, or dome, to enhance the star's beauty. Among other notable specimens on display are the 596 pound Brazilian Princess topaz, the largest topaz in the world, and a four, one half ton specimen of blue azurite/malachite ore that was found in the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee Arizona at the turn of the century, the padparadschan sapphire from Sri Lanka whose name means "lotus flower". It is unique because it is not blue but an orange color.

Halls of Meteorites

The Hall of Meteorites contain some of the finest specimens in the world including Ahnichito, a 34 ton section of the 200 ton 'Cape York meteorite' which was found at the location of that name in Greenland. The meteorite's great weight requires support by columns that extend through the floor and into the bedrock below the museum. The hall also contain extra-solar nano diamonds more than 5 billion years old.

Fossil Halls

Most of the museum's rich collections of mammalian and dinosaur fossils remain hidden from public view. They are kept in numerous storage areas located deep within the museum complex. Among these many treasure troves, the most significant storage facility is the ten story Frick Building which stands within an inner courtyard of the museum. During construction of the Frick, giant cranes were employed to lift steel beams directly from the street, over the roof, and into the courtyard in order to ensure that the classic museum facade remained undisturbed. The predicted great weight of the fossil bones lead designers to add special steel reinforcement to the building's framework. The fossil collections occupy the basement and lower seven floors of the Frick Building while the top three floors contain laboratories and offices. It is inside this particular building that many of the museum's intensive research programs into vertebrate paleontology are carried out.

Other areas of the museum contain equally fascinating repositories of life from thousands and millions of years in the past. The Whale Bone Storage Room is a cavernous space in which powerful winches come down from the ceiling to move the giant fossil bones about. Upstairs in the museum attic there are yet more storage facilities including the Elephant Room, and downstairs from that space one can find the tusk vault and boar vault.

The great fossil collections that are open to public view occupy the entire fourth floor of the museum as well as a separate spectacular exhibit that is on permanent display in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the museum's main entrance. The architecture of the fourth floor lends itself perfectly to the exhibits which are viewed by following a circuitous path that leads through several museum buildings. On the 77th street side of the museum the visitor begins in the Orientation Center which leads directly into the wonderful Moorish architecture of the museum's oldest building where the 'fossil tour' begins. A carefully marked path takes the visitor along an evolutionary tree of life. As the tree 'branches' the visitor is presented the family relationships among vertebrates. This evolutionary pathway is known as a cladogram; of which the museum's fourth floor is the world's largest and most dramatic.

To create a cladogram, scientists look for shared physical characteristics to determine the relatedness of different species. For instance a cladogram will show a relationship between amphibians, mammals, turtles, lizards, and birds since these apparently disparate groups share the trait of having 'four limbs with movable joints surrounded by muscle'. This makes them tetrapods. A group of related species such as the tetrapods is called a 'clade'. Within the tetrapod group only lizards and birds display yet another trait: 'two openings in the skull behind the eye'. Lizards and birds therefore represent a smaller, more closely related clade known as diapsids. In a cladogram the evolutionary appearance of a new trait for the first time is known as a 'node'. Throughout the fossil halls the nodes are carefully marked along the evolutionary path and these nodes alert us to the appearance of new traits representing whole new branches of the evolutionary tree. Species showing these traits are on display in alcoves on either side of the path. A video projection on the Museum's fourth floor introduces visitors to the concept of the cladogram. It is popular among children and adults alike.

The updated fossil halls celebrate the museum's architecture. Grand windows overlook Central Park and classic fixtures provide light. Many of the fossils on display represent unique and historic pieces that were collected during the museum's golden era of worldwide expeditions (1930s through the 1950s). On a smaller scale, expeditions continue into the present and have resulted in additions to the collections from Vietnam, Madagascar, South America, and central and eastern Africa.

The fourth-floor halls include the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (recognized by their grasping hand, long mobile neck, and the downward/forward position of the pubis bone, they are forerunners of the modern bird), Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs (defined for a pubic bone that points toward the back), Hall of Primitive Mammals, and Hall of Advanced Mammals.

Among the many outstanding fossils on display include:

  • Tyrannosaurus rex: Composed almost entirely of real fossil bones, it is mounted in a horizontal stalking pose beautifully balanced on powerful legs. The specimen is actually composed of fossil bones from two T. rex skeletons discovered in Montana in 1902 and 1908 by the legendary dinosaur hunter Barnum Brown.
  • Mammuthus: Larger than its relative the woolly mammoth, these fossils are from an animal that lived 11 thousand years ago in India.
  • Apatosaurus: This giant specimen was discovered at the end of the 19th century. Although most of its fossil bones are original, the skull is not, since none was found on site. It was only many years later that the first Apatosaurus skull was discovered and so a plaster cast of that skull was made and placed on the museum's mount. A Camarasaurus skull had been used mistakenly until a correct skull was found.
  • Brontops: Extinct mammal distantly related to the horse and rhinoceros. It lived 35 million years ago in what is now South Dakota. It is noted for its magnificent and unusual pair of horns.
  • Two skeletons of Anatotitan, a large herbivorous ornithopod dinosaur.
  • On September 27 2007, an 80-million-year-old, 2-feet-in-diameter fossil of ammonite made its debut at the Museum of Natural History. Neil Landman, curator, said that it became extinct 65 million years ago, at the time of the dinosaurs. Korite International donated it after its discovery in Alberta.

There are also a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus on display.

The Art of the Diorama: Recreating Nature

Renowned naturalists, artists, photographers, taxidermists and other museum personnel have all blended their talents to create the great habitat dioramas which can be found in halls throughout the museum. These world famous dioramas represent an unparalleled melding of art and science, "designed to nurture a reverence for nature by creating an illusion of its beauty and grandeur ; the dioramas recreate a specific site shown at a particular moment in the day and season of the year, combining the arts of taxidermy, model-making, painting, and lighting: "behind the glass, all of nature is locked in an instant of time for our close examination and study". Born in an era of black-and-white photography, when wildlife photography was in its earliest stages, the dioramas have themselves become major historic attractions. Notable among them is the Akeley Hall of African Mammals which opened in 1936. The enormous hall with its muted lighting creates a reverential space that showcases the vanishing wildlife of Africa, in spaces where the human presence is notably absent. A herd of eight enormous elephants appear to pause in the middle of the room, drawn protectively together and assessing the visitor's presence, while along the perimeter 28 brilliantly lighted windows usher the viewer into a world that many will never personally see. The hall is faced with in dark serpentinite, a volcanic stone that deepens the contrast with the diorama windows. Some of the displays are up to 18 feet (5 m) in height and 23 feet (7 m) in depth.

Carl Akeley was an outstanding taxidermist employed at the Field Museum in Chicago when the American Museum of Natural History sent him to Africa to collect elephant hides. Akeley fell in love with the rainforests of Africa and decried the encroachment of farming and civilization into formerly pristine natural habitats. Fearing the permanent loss of these natural areas, Akeley was motivated to educate the American public by creating the hall that bears his name. Akeley died in 1926 from infection while exploring the Kivu Volcanoes in his beloved Belgian Congo, an area near to that depicted by the hall's magnificent gorilla diorama.

With the 1942 opening of the Hall of North American Mammals, diorama art reached a pinnacle. It took more than a decade to create the scenes depicted in the hall which includes a 432 square foot (40 m²) diorama of the American bison.

Today, although the art of diorama has ceased to be a major exhibition technique, dramatic examples of this art form are still occasionally employed. In 1997 museum artists and scientists traveled to the Central African Republic to collect samples and photographs for the construction of a 3,000 square foot (300 m²) recreation of a tropical West African rainforest, the Dzanga-Sangha rain forest diorama in the Hall of Biodiversity.

Other notable dioramas, some dating back to the 1930s have recently been restored in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The hall is a 29,000 square foot (2,700 m²) bi-level room that includes a delicately mounted 94 foot (29 m) long model of a blue whale swimming beneath and around video projection screens and interactive computer stations. The entire room is bathed in a blue shimmering light that gives a distinct feel of the vast oceans of our world. Among the hall's notable dioramas are the 'sperm whale and giant squid', which represents a true melding of art and science since an actual encounter between these two giant creatures at over one half mile depth has never been witnessed. Another celebrated diorama in the hall represents the 'Andros coral reef' in the Bahamas, a two-story-high diorama that features the land form of the Bahamas and the many inhabitants of the coral reef found beneath the water's surface.

Rose Center and Planetarium

The original Hayden Planetarium, opened in 1935, was demolished and replaced in 2000 by the $210 million Frederick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space. Designed by James Stewart Polshek, the building consists of a six-story high glass cube enclosing a illuminated sphere that appears to float - although it is actually supported by truss work. James Polshek has referred to his work as a 'cosmic cathedral'. The facility encloses of research, education, and exhibition space as well as the Hayden planetarium. Also located in the facility is the Department of Astrophysics, the newest academic research department in the museum. Further, Polshek designed the Weston Pavilion, a high transparent structure of 'water white' glass along the museum's west facade. This structure, a small companion piece to the Rose Center, offers a new entry way to the museum as well as opening further exhibition space for astronomically related objects.

The Hayden planetarium was founded in 1933 with a donation by philanthropist Charles Hayden. The planetarium's magazine, 'The Sky', now 'Sky and Telescope' remains as a premier international resource for astronomical news. There was significant controversy over the destruction of the original structure.

The Hayden Sphere is in diameter.

Tom Hanks provided the voice-over for the first planetarium show during the opening of the new Rose Center for Earth & Space in the Hayden Planetarium in 2000. Since then such celebrities as Robert Redford and Maya Angelou have provided the voice over.


The museum is located at 79th Street and Central Park West, accessible via the B and C lines of the New York City subway.

The museum also houses the stainless steel time capsule designed after a competition by Santiago Calatrava, which was sealed at the end of 2000 to mark the millennium. It takes the form of a folded saddle-shaped volume, symmetrical on multiple axes, that explores formal properties of folded spherical frames, which Calatrava described as a flower. It stands on a pedestal outside the museum's Columbus Avenue entrance.

In popular culture

  • In J.D. Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield at one point finds himself heading towards the museum, reflecting on past visits and remarking that what he likes is the permanence of the exhibits there.
  • On early seasons of Friends, Ross Geller worked at the museum.
  • The museum in the film Night at the Museum is based on the AMNH. The interior scenes were shot at a sound stage in Vancouver, Canada, but exterior shots of the museum's façade were done at the actual AMNH. The museum in the film itself features a Hall of African Mammals, a Hall of Reptiles is mentioned, "Gems and Minerals" can be seen on a sign, there is a brief scene featuring the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and it is dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt. AMNH officials have credited the movie with increasing the number of visitors during the holiday season in 2006 by almost 20%. According to a museum official, there were 50,000 more visits during the period December 22, 2006 to January 2, 2007 over the previous year.
  • The museum has appeared repeatedly in the fiction of dark fantasy author Caitlín R. Kiernan, including appearances in her fifth novel Daughter of Hounds, her work on the DC/Vertigo comic book The Dreaming (#47, "Trinket"), and many of her short stories, including "Valentia" and "Onion" (both collected in To Charles Fort, With Love, 2005).
  • A scene in John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic is set before one of the dioramas.
  • Several scenes in the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow were set in the museum's halls.
  • As the "New York Museum of Natural History", the museum is a favorite setting in many Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child novels, including Relic, Reliquary, The Cabinet of Curiosities, and The Book of the Dead. F.B.I. Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast plays a major role in all of these thrillers. However, the film version of Relic was not filmed at the AMNH; some filming took place at the Field Museum in Chicago.
  • The title of Noah Baumbach's 2005 film The Squid and the Whale refers to a diorama in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The diorama is shown at the end of the film.
  • Other novels in which the AMNH is featured include Murder at the Museum of Natural History by Michael Jahn (1994), Funny Bananas: The Mystery in the Museum by Georgess McHargue (1975), 'The Bone Vault' by Linda Fairstein and a brief scene in Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999).
  • An ending for the film We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story shows all four dinosaurs finally reaching the AMNH.
  • Portions of the PlayStation game Parasite Eve take place within the AMNH.
  • The AMNH appears as a Resistance-controlled building in the Sierra game Manhunter: New York.
  • A scene from Malcolm X is filmed in the hall with prehistoric elephants.
  • The AMNH is featured in the video game GTA IV where it is known as the Liberty State Natural History Museum.
  • In the fourth volume of the Mirage's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Michelangelo acts as a tour guide for visting aliens, his first assignment is the Saurian Regenta Seri and her Styracodon bodyguards who wish to see the Museum, specificaly the Dinosaur exhibit.


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