The Academy of Natural Sciences: First Natural Sciences Institution in the Americas

May 9, 2022

Founded in 1812 and located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has played an important role in fostering scientific research as the first natural sciences institution in the Americas. Since its inception, prestigious members have included Thomas Jefferson (whose fossil collection is housed at the Academy), John James Audubon, Charles Darwin and Marie Curie.

A leader in biological research, the Academy’s library and archives feature 200,000 books, including some that date back to the 1500s, that document an understanding of the natural world from the very beginning of modern science. Numerous scientific societies began at the Academy including the American Medical Association in 1847, American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1848, and in 1876, the American Entomological Society chose the Academy for its headquarters to house its collections and library. The Academy is involved in many environmental endeavors and offers programs to educate the public.

The Academy of Natural Sciences strives to inspire guests to understand and care for the natural world. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

In over two centuries, the museum has amassed a collection of more than eighteen million specimens of noteworthy geographical, biological and historical significance, gathered from worldwide discovery expeditions, including hundreds of plants collected by Lewis and Clark.

academy of natural sciences
Dinosaur Hall features more than 30 species, many in full skeletal mounts. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

Upon entering the building, the imposing Tyrannosaurus rex beckons in Dinosaur Hall, displaying over thirty towering frames of dinosaur species such as Avaceratops, Chasmosaurus, Corythosaurus, Deinonychus, Pachycephalosaurus, Tenontosaurus, and Tylosaurus.

The world's first dinosaur skeleton ever mounted, 'Haddy,' is on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Photo by V. Kahn for PHLCVB.

In 1868, the Academy of Natural Sciences was the first museum in the world to mount a dinosaur skeleton. “Haddy,” or Hadrosaurus foulkii, was discovered in Haddonfield, New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia in 1858 and identified by Dr. Joseph Leidy. The public display generated enormous public interest.

The Atlas Moth, in the Butterflies! exhibit, is a large moth indigenous to Asia with a wingspan of between 9-10 inches. Photo by V. Kahn for PHLCVB.

Walk through a tropical garden with over one hundred live butterflies of various sorts from Central and South America, East Africa and Southeast Asia in the Academy’s Butterflies! exhibit. NOTE: Butterflies! is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are 37 dioramas in the museum, including the gorilla exhibit. Photo by J. Hutelmyer for the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Outside In is a children’s discovery center where young, inquisitive minds can explore the natural world while observing animal habitats. There are also dozens of historic dioramas portraying animals in their natural habitats throughout the museum.

In the Fossil Prep Lab, fossils are cleaned and prepared for study and display. Photo by V. Kahn for PHLCVB.

To see paleontology in action, head to the Fossil Prep Lab where workers prepare fossils for study and display. Additional museum activities include live animal shows and naturalist presentations, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with creatures and specimens. Special events include Wild Wizarding Weekend, Bug Fest, Paleopalooza, Animal Superhero Weekend, Xtreme Science Days, and more.

Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss will be on view through July 24, 2022. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

On view at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss reveals the mysteries of the ocean’s greatest depths. Visitors will get the chance to explore newly discovered life forms, bubbling thermal vents, deep-sea research submersibles, and shipwrecks including the Titanic. Guests will learn about the amazing creatures that thrive in total darkness, as well as the technology that only recently has allowed scientists to travel to the ocean floor in order to discover creatures no one knew existed. Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss will be on view through July 24, 2022.

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