American Museum of Natural History

This article is about the museum in New York City. For the museum in Washington, D.C., see National Museum of Natural History.
American Museum of Natural History

Looking at the east entrance from Central Park West
Established 1869 (1869)[1]
Location Central Park West at 79th Street, New York City, U.S. 10024
Type Natural history
Visitors About 5,000,000 annually[2][3]
Director Ellen V. Futter
Public transit access New York City Bus:
M7, M10, M11, M79
New York City Subway:
81st Street – Museum of Natural History (  trains)

American Museum of Natural History
Built 1874 (1874)
NRHP Reference # 76001235[4]
Added to NRHP June 24, 1976

The American Museum of Natural History (abbreviated as AMNH), located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, is one of the largest museums in the world. Located in park-like grounds across the street from Central Park, the museum complex comprises 28 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. The museum collections contain over 33 million specimens[5] of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts, of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time, and occupies more than 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2). The museum has a full-time scientific staff of 225, sponsors over 120 special field expeditions each year,[6] and averages about five million visits annually.[7]

The one mission statement of the American Museum of Natural History is: "To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe."


Drawing of the AMNH west façade


Before construction of the present complex, the museum was housed in the 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. P. 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.[8]


In 1874, the cornerstone was laid 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 Victorian Gothic building, which was opened in 1877,[1] was designed by J. Wrey Mould, both already closely identified with the architecture of Central Park.[9]:19–20


The original building was soon eclipsed by the south range of the museum, designed by J. Cleaveland Cady, an exercise in rusticated brownstone neo-Romanesque, influenced by H. H. Richardson.[10] It extends 700 feet (210 m) along West 77th Street,[11] with corner towers 150 feet (46 m) tall. Its pink brownstone and granite, similar to that found at Grindstone Island in the St. Lawrence River, came from quarries at Picton Island, New York.[12]

The 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.[13] It leads to a vast Roman basilica, where visitors are greeted with a cast of a skeleton of a rearing Barosaurus defending her young from an Allosaurus. The museum is also accessible through its 77th street foyer, renamed the "Grand Gallery" and featuring a fully suspended Haida canoe. The hall leads into the oldest extant exhibit in the museum, the hall of Northwest Coast Indians.[14]

Locations of exploring and field parties in 1913, American Museum of Natural History map
The old 77th street "castle" entrance of the museum

Later additions and renovations

Since 1930, little has been added to the exterior of the original building. The architect Kevin Roche and his firm Roche-Dinkeloo have been responsible for the master planning of the museum since the 1990s. Various renovations both interior and exterior have been carried out including improvements to Dinosaur Hall and mural restoration in Roosevelt Memorial Hall. In 1992 the firm designed the new eight story AMNH Library.

On October 11, 2016, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved a 195,000-square-foot expansion of the museum to house the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. Designed by Studio Gang, Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand, the new building's pink Milford granite facade will have a textural, curvilinear design inspired by natural topographical elements showcased in the museum, including "geological strata, glacier-gouged caves, curving canyons, and blocks of glacial ice," as a striking contrast to the museum's predominance of High Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque and Beaux Arts architectural styles. Construction of the Gilder Center, which is expected to break ground next year following design development and Environmental Impact Statement stages, would entail demolition of three museum buildings built between 1874 and 1935.[15]


The museum's south front, spanning 77th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue was cleaned, repaired and re-emerged in 2009. Steven Reichl, a spokesman for the museum, said that work would include restoring 650 black-cherry window frames and stone repairs. The museum's consultant on the latest renovation is Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., an architectural and engineering firm with headquarters in Northbrook, IL.[10]


The museum's first two presidents were John David Wolfe (1870–1872) and Robert L. Stuart (1872–1881), both among the museum's founders. The museum was not put on a sound footing until the appointment of the third president, Morris K. Jesup (also one of the original founders), in 1881. Jesup was president for over 25 years, overseeing its expansion and much of its golden age of exploration and collection. The fourth president, Henry Fairfield Osborn, was appointed in 1906 on the death of Jesup. Osborn consolidated the museum's expansion, developing it into one of the world's foremost natural history museums. F. Trubee Davison was president from 1933 to 1951, with A. Perry Osborn as Acting President from 1941 to 1946. Alexander M. White was president from 1951 to 1968. Gardner D. Stout was president from 1968 to 1975. Robert G. Goelet from 1975 to 1988. George D. Langdon, Jr. from 1988 to 1993. Ellen V. Futter has been president of the museum since 1993.[16]

Associated names

Famous names associated with the museum include the paleontologist and geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn; the dinosaur-hunter of the Gobi Desert, Roy Chapman Andrews (one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones);[9]:97–8 George Gaylord Simpson; biologist Ernst Mayr; pioneer cultural anthropologists Franz Boas and Margaret Mead; explorer and geographer Alexander H. Rice, Jr.; and ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy. J. P. Morgan was also among the famous benefactors of the museum.

Mammal halls

Old World mammals

Akeley Hall of African Mammals

Akeley Hall

Named after taxidermist Carl Akeley, the Akeley Hall of African Mammals is a two-story hall located directly behind the Theodore Roosevelt rotunda. Its 28 dioramas depict in meticulous detail the great range of ecosystems found in Africa and the mammals endemic to them. The centerpiece of the hall is a pack of eight African elephants in a characteristic 'alarmed' formation.[17] Though the mammals are typically the main feature in the dioramas, birds and flora of the regions are occasionally featured as well. In the 80 years since Akeley Hall’s creation, many of the species within have become endangered, some critically, and the locations deforested.[18] Despite this, none of the species are yet extinct, in part thanks to the work of Carl Akeley himself (see Virunga National Park). The hall connects to the Hall of African Peoples.


The Hall of African Mammals was first proposed to the museum by Carl Akeley around 1909.[19] His original concept contained forty dioramas which would present the rapidly vanishing landscapes and animals of Africa. The intent was that a visitor of the hall, “may have the illusion, at worst, of passing a series of pictures of primeval Africa, and at best, may think for a moment that he has stepped five thousand miles across the sea into Africa itself.” Akeley’s proposal was a hit with both the board of trustees and then museum president, Henry Fairfield Osborne. To fund its creation, Daniel Pomeroy, a trustee of the museum and partner at J.P. Morgan, offered interested investors the opportunity to accompany the museum’s expeditions in Africa in exchange for funding.[19]

Carl Akeley mounts specimens for the "Lions" diorama

Akeley began collecting specimens for the hall as early as 1909, famously encountering Theodore Roosevelt in the midst of the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African expedition (two of the elephants featured in the museum’s center piece were donated by Roosevelt, a cow, shot by Roosevelt himself, and a calf, shot by his son Kermit).[20] On these early expeditions, Akeley would be accompanied by his former apprentice in taxidermy, James L. Clark, and artist, William R. Leigh.[19]

When Akeley returned to Africa to collect gorillas for the hall’s first diorama, Clark remained behind and began scouring the country for artists to create the backgrounds. The eventual appearance of the first habitat groups would have a huge impact on the museum. Akeley and Clark’s skillful taxidermy paired with the backgrounds painted under Leigh’s direction created an illusion of life in these animals that made the museum’s other exhibits seem dull in comparison (the museum’s original style of exhibition can still be seen in the small area devoted to birds and animals of New York). Plans for other diorama halls quickly emerged and by 1929 Birds of the World, the Hall of North American Mammals, the Vernay Hall of Southeast Asian Mammals, and the Hall of Oceanic Life were all in stages of planning or construction.[19]

the "Plains" diorama in Akeley Hall

After Akeley’s unexpected death during the Eastman-Pommeroy expedition in 1926, responsibility of the hall’s completion fell to James L. Clark. Despite being hampered by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, Clark’s passion for Africa and his dedication to his former mentor kept the project alive. In 1933, Clark would hire architectural artist James Perry Wilson to assist Leigh in the painting of backgrounds. More technically minded than Leigh, Wilson would make many improvements on Leigh’s techniques, including a range of methods to minimize the distortion caused by the dioramas’ curved walls.[19]

Gorilla diorama in Akeley Hall of African Mammals

In 1936, William D. Campbell, a wealthy board member with a desire to see Africa, offered to fund several dioramas if allowed to obtain the specimens himself. Clark agreed to this arrangement and shortly after Campbell left to collect the okapi and black rhinoceros specimens accompanied by artist Robert Kane. Campbell would be involved, in one capacity or another, with several other subsequent expeditions. Despite setbacks including malaria, flooding, foreign government interference, and even a boat sinking, these expeditions would succeed in acquiring some of Akeley Hall’s most impressive specimens.[19][21] Back in the museum, Kane would join Leigh and Wilson, along with a handful of other artists in completing the hall’s remaining dioramas. Though construction of the hall was completed in 1936, the dioramas would gradually open between the mid-1920s and early 1940s.[22]

Hall of Asian Mammals

Vernay-Faunthorpe Hall of Asian Mammals

The Hall of Asian Mammals, sometimes referred to as the Vernay-Faunthorpe Hall of Asian Mammals, is a one story hall located directly to the left of the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda. It contains 8 complete dioramas, 4 partial dioramas, and 6 habitat groups of mammals and locations from India, Nepal, Burma, and Malaysia. The hall opened in 1930 and, similar to Akeley Hall, is centered around 2 Asian elephants. At one point, a giant panda and Siberian tiger were also part of the Hall's collection, originally intended to be part of an adjoining Hall of North Asian Mammals (planned in the current location of Stout Hall of Asian Peoples). These specimens can currently be seen in the Hall of Biodiversity.[17][24]


Specimens for the Hall of Asian Mammals were collected over six expeditions led by Arthur S. Vernay and Col. John Faunthorpe (as noted by stylized plaques at both entrances). The expeditions were funded entirely by Vernay, a wealthy, British-born, New York antiques dealer. He characterized the expense as a British tribute to American involvement in World War I.[25]

The Indian rhinoceros diorama at Vernay-Faunthorpe Hall

The first Vernay-Faunthorpe expedition took place in 1922. At the time, many of the animals Vernay was seeking, such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and Asiatic lion, were already rare and facing the possibility of extinction. To acquire these specimens, Vernay would have to make many appeals to regional authorities in order to obtain hunting permits.[26] The relations he would forge during this time would assist later museum related expeditions headed by Vernay in gaining access to areas previously restricted to foreign visitors.[27] Artist Clarence C. Rosenkranz accompanied the Vernay-Faunthorpe expeditions as field artist and would later paint the majority of the diorama backgrounds in the hall.[28] These expeditions were also well documented in both photo and video, with enough footage of the first expedition to create a feature-length film, Hunting Tigers in India (1929).[29]

New World mammals

The Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals

Alaska moose diorama in the Hall of North American Mammals

The Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals features 43 dioramas of various mammals of the American continent, north of tropical Mexico. Each diorama places focus on a particular species, ranging from the largest megafauna to the smaller rodents and carnivorans. Notable dioramas include the Alaskan brown bears, a pair of wolves, a Sonoran jaguar, and dueling bull moose.

Alaska brown bear clay model, circa 1930s

The Hall of North American Mammals opened in 1942 with only ten dioramas, including those of the larger North American mammals. In 1948, the wolf diorama was installed, but further progress on the hall was halted as World War 2 broke out. After the war the hall ceased completion in 1954. Since that time, the hall had remained the much the same and the majority of the mounts were weathering and bleaching. A massive restoration project began in late 2011 due to a large donation from Jill and Lewis Bernard. Taxidermists were brought in to clean the mounts and skins and artists restored the diorama backdrops. In October 2012 the hall was reopened as the Bernard Hall of North American Mammals and included scientifically-updated signage for each diorama.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibian halls

Sanford Hall of North American Birds

The Cuthbert Rookery Diorama contains many of the birds once endangered by plume hunting

The Sanford Hall of North American birds is a one story hall located on the third floor of the museum, above the Hall of African Peoples and between the Hall of Primates and Akeley Hall’s second level. Its 25 dioramas depict birds from across North America in their native habitats. Opening in 1909, the dioramas in Sanford Hall were the first to be exhibited in the museum and are, at present, the oldest still on display. At the far end of the hall are two large murals by renowned ornithologist and artist, Louis Agassiz Fuertes. In addition to the species listed below, the hall also has display cases devoted to large collections of warblers, owls, and raptors.


Mural of flamingo nesting grounds by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

Conceived by museum ornithologist Frank Chapman, construction began on dioramas for the Hall of North American Birds as early as 1902. The Hall is named for Chapman's friend and amateur ornithologist Leonard C. Sanford, who partially funded the hall and also donated the entirety of his own bird specimen collection to the museum.[30]

Although Chapman was not the first to create museum dioramas, he was responsible for many of the innovations that would separate and eventually define the dioramas in the American Museum. Whereas other dioramas of the time period typically featured generic scenery, Chapman was the first to bring artists into the field with him in the hopes of capturing a specific location at a specific time. In contrast to the dramatic scenes later created by Carl Akeley for the African Hall, Chapman wanted his dioramas to evoke a scientific realism, ultimately serving as a historical record of habitats and species facing a high probability of extinction.[30]

At the time of Sanford Hall's construction, plume-hunting for the millinery trade had brought many coastal bird species to the brink of extinction, most notably the great egret. Frank Chapman was a key figure in the conservation movement that emerged during this time. His dioramas were created with the intention of furthering this conservationist cause, giving museum visitors a brief glimpse at the dwindling bird species being lost in the name of fashion. Thanks in part to Chapman's efforts, both inside and outside of the museum, conservation of these bird species would be very successful, establishing refuges, such as Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and eventually leading to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.[31]

Hall of Birds of the World

The global diversity of bird species is exhibited in this hall. 12 dioramas showcase various ecosystems around the world and provide a sample of the varieties of birds that live there. Example dioramas include South Georgia featuring king penguins and skuas, the East African plains featuring secretarybirds and bustards, and the Australian outback featuring honeyeaters, cockatoos, and kookaburras.

Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds

This particular hall has undergone a complicated history over the years since its founding in 1953. Frank Chapman and Leonard C. Sanford, originally museum volunteers, had gone forward with creation of a hall to feature birds of the Pacific islands. In the years up to its founding, the museum had engaged in various expeditions to Fiji, New Zealand, and the Marianas (among other locations) to collect birds for the exhibit. The hall was designed as a completely immersive collection of dioramas, including a circular display featuring birds-of-paradise. In 1998, The Butterfly Conservatory was installed inside the hall originally as a temporary exhibit, but as the popular demand of the exhibit increased, the Hall of Oceanic Birds has more or less remained closed by the museum.

Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians

The Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians serves as an introduction to herpetology, with many exhibits detailing reptile evolution, anatomy, diversity, reproduction, and behavior. Notable exhibits include a komodo dragon group, an American alligator, a Galápagos tortoise, and poison dart frogs.

Biodiversity and environmental halls

Hall of North American Forests

The Mixed Deciduous Forest diorama

The Hall of North American Forests is a one story hall located on the museum’s ground floor in between the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall and the Warburg Hall of New York State Environments. It contains ten dioramas depicting a range of forest types from across North America as well as several displays on forest conservation and tree health. Constructed under the guidance of noted botanist Henry K. Svenson (who also oversaw Warburg Hall’s creation) and opened in 1959, each diorama specifically lists both the location and exact time of year depicted.[32] Trees and plants featured in the dioramas are constructed of a combination of art supplies and actual bark and other specimens collected in the field. The entrance to the hall features a cross section from a 1,400-year-old sequoia taken from the King's River grove on the west flank of the Sierra Mountains in 1891.[33]

The Juniper Forest diorama

Warburg Hall of New York State Environments

"Spring" display in Warburg Hall

Warburg Hall of New York State Environments is a one story hall located on the museum’s ground floor in between the Hall of North American Forests and the Grand Hall. Based on the town of Pine Plains and near-by Stissing Mountain in Dutchess County,[34] the hall gives a multi-faceted presentation of the eco-systems typical of New York. Aspects covered include soil types, seasonal changes, and the impact of both humans and nonhuman animals on the environment. It is named for the German-American philanthropist, Felix M. Warburg. Originally known as the "Hall of Man and Nature", Warburg Hall opened in 1951.[34] It has changed little since and is now frequently regarded for its retro-modern styling.[35] The hall shares many of the exhibit types featured throughout the museum as well as one display type, unique to Warburg, which features a recessed miniature diorama behind a foreground of species and specimens from the environment depicted.

Milstein Hall of Ocean Life

A page about the blue whale being built (top)
Model of a blue whale in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life

The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life focuses on marine biology, botany and marine conservation. The hall is most famous for its 94-foot (29 m)-long[36] blue whale model, suspended from the ceiling behind its dorsal fin. The hall's classic lines and visually arresting elegance host cutting-edge exhibition technology and the latest scientific research on the ocean. The 29,000-square-foot Hall has been transformed into a fully immersive marine environment with high-definition video projections, interactive computer stations, hands-on models, 14 renovated classic dioramas, and eight new ocean ecosystem displays that transport visitors from the rainbow-hued profusion of life in the Indo-Pacific coral reefs to the flickering bioluminescence of fishes in the eerie darkness of the deep sea. The exhibit was first created by the AMNH Exhibitions Lab in 1933, was renovated in 1969 and once again in 2003 through funding provided by Paul and Irma Milstein.

The upper level of the hall exhibits the vast array of ecosystems present in the ocean. Dioramas compare and contrast the life in these different settings including polar seas, kelp forests, mangroves, coral reefs and the bathypelagic. It attempts to show how vast and varied the oceans are while encouraging common themes throughout. The lower, and arguably more famous, half of the hall consists of several large dioramas of larger marine organisms. It is on this level that the famous "Squid and the Whale" diorama sits, depicting a hypothetical fight between the two creatures.[37] Other notable exhibits in this hall include the Andros Coral Reef Diorama, which is the only two-level diorama in the Western Hemisphere.[38] One of the most famous icons of the museum is a life-sized fiberglass model of a ninety-four foot long Atlantic blue whale. The whale was redesigned dramatically in the 2003 renovation: its flukes and fins were readjusted, a navel was added, and it was repainted from a dull gray to various rich shades of blue.


In 1910, museum president Henry F. Osborn proposed the construction of a large building in the museum's southeast courtyard to house a new Hall of Ocean Life in which "models and skeletons of whales" would be exhibited. This proposal to build in the courtyard marked a major reappraisal of the museum's original architectural plan. Calvert Vaux had designed the museum complex to include four open courtyards in order to maximize the amount of natural light entering the surrounding buildings. In 1969, a renovation gave the hall a more explicit focus on oceanic megafauna in order to paint the ocean as a grandiose and exciting place. The key component of the renovation became the addition of a lifelike blue whale model to replace a popular steel and papier-mâché whale model that had hung in the Biology of Mammals hall. Richard Van Gelder oversaw the creation of the hall in its current incarnation.[39]

The hall was renovated once again in 2003, this time with environmentalism and conservation being the main focal points. Paul Milstein was a legendary real estate developer, business leader and philanthropist and Irma Milstein is a long-time Board member of the American Museum of Natural History. The 2003 renovation included refurbishment of the famous blue whale, suspended high above the 19,000 square foot exhibit floor, and updating of the 1930s and 1960s dioramas. New displays were linked to schools via state-of-the-art technology.[40]

Human origins and cultural halls

Cultural halls

Stout Hall of Asian Peoples

The Stout Hall of Asian Peoples is a one story hall located on the museum’s second floor in between the Hall of Asian Mammals and Birds of the World. It is named for Gardner D. Stout, a former president of the museum, and was primarily organized by Dr. Walter A. Fairservis, a longtime museum archaeologist. Opened in 1980, Stout Hall is the museum’s largest anthropological hall and contains artifacts acquired by the museum between 1869 and the mid-1970s.[41] Many famous expeditions sponsored by the museum are associated with the artifacts in the hall, including the Roy Chapman Andrews expeditions in Central Asia and the Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin expedition.[42]

Stout Hall has two sections: Ancient Eurasia, a small section devoted to the evolution of human civilization in Eurasia, and Traditional Asia, a much larger section containing cultural artifacts from across the Asian continent. The latter section is organized to geographically correspond with two major trade routes of the Silk Road. Like many of the museum’s exhibition halls, the artifacts in Stout Hall are presented in a variety of ways including exhibits, miniature dioramas, and 5 full scale dioramas. Notable exhibits in the Ancient Eurasian section include reproductions from the famed archaeological sites of Teshik-Tash and Çatalhöyük, as well as a full size replica of a Hammurabi Stele. The Traditional Asia section contains areas devoted to major Asian countries, such as Japan, China, Tibet, and India, while also including a vast array of smaller Asian tribes including the Ainu, Semai, and Yakut.[43]

Hall of African Peoples

Diorama depicting Pokot methods of animal husbandry

The Hall of African Peoples is located behind Akeley Hall of African Mammals and underneath Sanford Hall of North American Birds. It is organized by the four major ecosystems found in Africa: River Valley, Grasslands, Forest-Woodland, and Desert.[44] Each section presents artifacts and exhibits of the peoples native to the ecosystems throughout Africa. The hall contains three dioramas and notable exhibits include a large collection of spiritual costumes on display in the Forest-Woodland section. Uniting the sections of the hall is a multi-faceted comparison of African societies based on hunting and gathering, cultivation, and animal domestication. Each type of society is presented in a historical, political, spiritual, and ecological context. A small section of African diaspora spread by the slave trade is also included. Below is a brief list of some of the tribes and civilizations featured:

Spiritual costumes from a variety of African tribes

River Valley: Ancient Egyptians, Nubians, Kuba, Lozi

Grasslands: Pokot, Shilluk, Barawa

Forest-Woodland: Yoruba, Kofyar, Mbuti

Desert: Ait Atta, Tuareg

Hall of Mexico and Central America

Zapotec burial urns from Monte Albán

The Hall of Mexico and Central America is a one story hall located on the museum’s second floor behind Birds of the World and before the Hall of South American Peoples. It presents archaeological artifacts from a broad range of pre-Columbian civilizations that once existed across Middle America, including the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, and Aztec. Because most of these civilizations did not leave behind recorded writing or have any contact with Western civilization, the overarching aim of the hall is to piece together what it is possible to know about them from the artifacts alone.

The museum has displayed pre-Columbian artifacts since its opening, only a short time after the discovery of the civilizations by archaeologists, with its first hall dedicated to the subject opening in 1899.[45] As the museum’s collection grew, the hall underwent major renovations in 1944 and again in 1970 when it re-opened in its current form.[46][47] Notable artifacts on display include the Kunz Axe and a full-scale replica of Tomb 104 from the Monte Albán archaeological site, originally displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Indians halls

Hall of Northwest Coast Indians
Kwakwaka'wakw House Posts

The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians is a one story hall located on the museum's ground floor behind the Grand Gallery and in between Warburg and Spitzer Halls. Opened in 1900 under the name "Jesup North Pacific Hall", it is currently the oldest exhibition hall in the museum, though it has undergone many renovations in its history.The hall contains artifacts and exhibits of the tribes of the North Pacific Coast cultural region (Southern Alaska, Northern Washington, and a portion of British Columbia). Featured prominently in the hall are four "House Posts" from the Kwakwaka'wakw nation and murals by William S. Taylor depicting native life.[48]


Artifacts in the hall originated from three main sources. The earliest of these was a gift of Haida artifacts (including the now famous Haida canoe of the Grand Gallery) collected by John Wesley Powell and donated by Herbert Bishop in 1882. This was followed by the museum’s purchase of two collections of Tlingit artifacts collected by Lt. George T. Emmons in 1888 and 1894.[49]

Nuxalk Masks

The remainder of the hall’s artifacts were collected during the famed Jesup North Pacific Expedition between 1897 and 1902. Led by influential anthropologist Franz Boas and financed by museum president Morris Ketchum Jesup, the expedition was the first for the museum’s Division of Anthropology and is now considered the, “foremost expedition in American anthropology”.[50] Many famous ethnologists took part, including George Hunt, who secured the Kwakwaka’wakw House Posts that currently stand in the hall.[51]

At the time of its opening, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians was one of four halls dedicated to the native peoples of United States and Canada. It was originally organized in two sections, the first being a general area pertaining to all peoples of the region and the second a specialized area divided by tribe. This was a point of contention for Boas who wanted all artifacts in the hall to be associated with the proper tribe (much like it is currently organized), eventually leading to the dissolution of Boas’ relationship with the museum.[49][52]

Other tribes featured in the hall include: Coastal Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth (listed as Nootka), Tsimshian, and Nuxalk (listed as Bella Coola)

Hall of Plains Indians

The primary focus of this hall is the North American Great Plains peoples as they were at the middle of the 19th Century, including depictions of Blackfeet, Hidatsa, and Dakota cultures. Of particular interest is a Folsom point discovered in 1926 New Mexico, providing valuable evidence of early American colonization of the Americas.

Hall of Eastern Woodlands Indians

This hall details the lives and technology of traditional Native American peoples in the woodland environments of eastern North America. Particular cultures exhibited include Cree, Mohegan, Ojibwe, and Iroquois.

Human origins halls

Bernard and Anne Spitzer Hall of Human Origins

The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, formerly The Hall of Human Biology and Evolution, opened on February 10, 2007.[53] Originally known under the name "Hall of the Age of Man", at the time of its original opening in 1921 it was the only major exhibition in the United States to present an in-depth investigation of human evolution.[54] The displays traced the story of Homo sapiens, illuminated 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 capable 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 some of the earliest artistic expression of humans.[55]

Earth and planetary science halls

Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites

Cape York Meteorite

The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites contains some of the finest specimens in the world including Ahnighito, a section of the 200 ton Cape York meteorite which was found at the location of the same name in Greenland. The meteorite's great weight—at 34 tons, makes it the largest meteorite on display at any museum in the world[56]—requires support by columns that extend through the floor and into the bedrock below the museum.[57]

The hall also contains extra-solar nanodiamonds (diamonds with dimensions on the nanometer level) more than 5 billion years old. These were extracted from a meteorite sample through chemical means, and they are so small that a quadrillion of these fit into a volume smaller than a cubic centimeter.[58]

Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals houses hundreds of unusual geological specimens. It adjoins the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems showcasing many rare, and valuable gemstones. The exhibit was designed by the architectural firm of Wm. F. Pedersen and Assoc. with Fred Bookhardt in charge. Vincent Manson was the curator of the Mineralogy Department. The exhibit took six years to design and build, 1970–1976. The New York Times architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, said, "It is one of the finest museum installations that New York City or any city has seen in many years".[59]

On display are many renowned samples that are chosen from among the museum's more than 100,000 pieces. 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.[60] 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.[61] Among other notable specimens on display are a 596-pound (270 kg) topaz, a 4.5 ton specimen of blue azurite/malachite ore that was found in the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee, Arizona at the start of the 20th century;[62] and a rare, 100 carat (20 g) orange-colored padparadschan sapphire from Sri Lanka, considered "the mother of all pads."[63] The collection also includes the Midnight Star, a 116.75-carat deep purplish-red star ruby, which was from Sri Lanka and was also donated by J.P. Morgan to the AMNH, like the Star of India. It was also donated to AMNH the same year the Star of India was donated to the AMNH, 1901.

On October 29, 1964, the Star of India, along with the Midnight Star, the DeLong Star Ruby, and the Eagle Diamond were all stolen from the museum.[64] The burglars, Jack Roland "Murph The Surf" Murphy, and his two accomplices, Allen Dale Kuhn and Roger Frederick Clark, gained entrance by climbing through a bathroom window they had unlocked hours before the museum was closed. The Midnight Star and the DeLong Star Ruby were later recovered in Miami. A few weeks later, also in Miami, the Star of India was recovered from a locker in a bus station, but the Eagle Diamond was never found; it may have been recut or lost.[65] Murphy, Kuhn, and Clark were all caught later on and were all sentenced to three years in jail, and they all were granted parole.

Fossil halls

Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs.
Skeleton of Styracosaurus.

Most of the museum's 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, the most significant storage facility is the ten story Childs 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 façade remained undisturbed. The predicted great weight of the fossil bones led designers to add special steel reinforcement to the building's framework, as it now houses the largest collection of fossil mammals and dinosaurs in the world. These 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 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. The museum attic upstairs includes even more storage facilities, such as the Elephant Room, while the tusk vault and boar vault are downstairs from the attic.[9]:119–20

The great fossil collections that are open to public view occupy the entire fourth floor of the museum as well as a separate exhibit that is on permanent display in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the museum's main entrance. The fourth floor exhibits allow the visitor to trace the evolution of vertebrates 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 and follows a carefully marked path, which takes the visitor along an evolutionary tree of life. As the tree "branches" the visitor is presented with the familial relationships among vertebrates. This evolutionary pathway is known as a cladogram.

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', making 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, and is popular among children and adults alike.

Many of the fossils on display represent unique and historic pieces that were collected during the museum's golden era of worldwide expeditions (1880s to 1930s).[8] 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 4th floor includes the following halls:[66]

Fossils on display

Anatotitan fossil skeletons.

The many outstanding fossils on display include, among others:

A Triceratops and a Stegosaurus are also both on display, among many other specimens.

Rose Center for Earth and Space

Rose Center for Earth and Space

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.[76] The Heilbrun Cosmic Pathway is one of the most popular exhibits in the Rose Center, which opened February 19, 2000.[53]

The original Hayden Planetarium was founded in 1933 with a donation by philanthropist Charles Hayden. Opened in 1935,[77] it 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 new building consists of a six-story high glass cube enclosing a 87-foot (27 m) 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".[78] The Rose Center and its adjacent plaza, both located on the north facade of the museum, are regarded as some of Manhattan's most outstanding recent architectural additions. The facility encloses 333,500 square feet (30,980 m2) 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. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium. Further, Polshek designed the 1,800-square-foot (170 m2) Weston Pavilion, a 43-foot (13 m) 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 planetarium's former magazine, The Sky, merged with "The Telescope", to become the astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope.[79]

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 Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and Maya Angelou have been featured.

Exhibitions Lab

Main article: AMNH Exhibitions Lab

Founded in 1869, the AMNH Exhibitions Lab has since produced thousands of installations, many of which have become celebrated works. The department is notable for its integration of new scientific research into immersive art and multimedia presentations. In addition to the famous dioramas at its home museum and the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the lab has also produced international exhibitions and software such as the revolutionary Digital Universe Atlas.[80]

The exhibitions team currently consists of over sixty artists, writers, preparators, designers and programmers. The department is responsible for the creation of two to three exhibits per year, making the AMNH one of the most extensive exhibition creators in the world. These extensive shows typically travel nationally to sister natural history museums. Due to the strong relationship between the lab and the museum's extensive research and curation wing, the department has been among the first to introduce brand new topics to the public. They have produced, among others, the first exhibits to discuss Darwinian evolution,[54] human-induced climate change[81] and the mesozoic mass extinction via asteroid.

Research Library

The Research Library is open to staff and public visitors, and is located on the fourth floor of the museum.[82]

The Library collects materials covering such subjects as mammalogy, earth and planetary science, astronomy and astrophysics, anthropology, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, paleontology, ethology, ornithology, mineralogy, invertebrates, systematics, ecology, oceanography, conchology, exploration and travel, history of science, museology, bibliography, genomics, and peripheral biological sciences. The collection is rich in retrospective materials — some going back to the 15th century — that are difficult to find elsewhere.[83]


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 550,000 volumes of monographs, serials, pamphlets, reprints, microforms, and original illustrations, as well as film, photographic, archives and manuscripts, fine art, memorabilia and rare book collections.

The new Library was designed by the firm Roche-Dinkeloo in 1992. The space is 55,000-sq ft and includes five different 'conservation zones', ranging from the 50-person reading room and public offices, to temperature and humidity controlled rooms.[84]

Special collections

Activities offered

Research activities

A matrix barcode that uniquely identifies a specimen in the museum's entomology collection.

The museum has a scientific staff of more than 225, and sponsors over 120 special field expeditions each year. Many of the fossils on display represent unique and historic pieces that were collected during the museum's golden era of worldwide expeditions (1880s to 1930s). Examples of some of these expeditions, financed in whole or part by the AMNH are: Jesup North Pacific Expedition, the Whitney South Seas Expedition, the Roosevelt–Rondon Scientific Expedition, the Crocker Land Expedition, and the expeditions to Madagascar and New Guinea by Richard Archbold. On a smaller scale, expeditions continue into the present. The museum also publishes several peer-reviewed journals, including the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.[89] In 1976, animal rights activist Henry Spira led a campaign against vivisection on cats that the American Museum of Natural History had been conducting for 20 years, intended to research the impact of certain types of mutilation on the sex lives of cats. The museum halted the research in 1977, and Spira's campaign was hailed as the first ever to succeed in stopping animal experiments.

Educational outreach

AMNH's education programs include outreach to schools in New York City by the Moveable Museum.[90][91][92][93][94][95][96][97][98][99][100][101] AMNH also offers a Master of Arts in Science Teaching and a PhD in Comparative Biology.[102][103]

On October 23, 2006, the museum launched the Richard Gilder Graduate School, which offers a PhD in Comparative Biology, becoming the first American museum in the United States to award doctoral degrees in its own name. Accredited in 2009, in 2011 the graduate school had 11 students enrolled, who work closely with curators and they have access to the collections.[104][105][106] The first seven graduates to complete the program were awarded their degrees on September 30, 2013.[107] The dean of the graduate school is AMNH paleontologist John J. Flynn, and the namesake and major benefactor is Richard Gilder.


The museum is located at 79th Street and Central Park West, accessible via the B C trains of the New York City Subway. There is a low-level floor direct access into the museum via the 81st Street – Museum of Natural History subway station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line at the south end of the upper platform (where uptown trains arrive).

On a pedestal outside the museum's Columbus Avenue entrance is a stainless steel time capsule, which was created after a design competition that was won by Santiago Calatrava. The capsule was sealed at the beginning of 2000, to mark the beginning of the 3rd millennium. It takes the form of a folded saddle-shaped volume, symmetrical on multiple axes, that explores formal properties of folded spherical frames. Calatrava described it as "a flower". The plan is that the capsule will be opened in the year 3000.[108]

The museum is situated in a 17-acre (69,000 m2) city park known as "Theodore Roosevelt Park". The park extends from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, and from West 77th Street to West 81st Street. Theodore Roosevelt Park contains park benches, gardens and lawns, and also a dog run.[109]

In popular culture

The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, the main ticketing lobby




Video games


Pictures in The American Museum of Natural History: An Introduction, 1972

This book; The American Museum of Natural History - An Introduction was printed in 1972. The book was a series of maps.

See also


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