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

by Victoria Kahn, PHLCVB contributor

Founded in 1812, 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.

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.

Dinosaur Hall features more than 30 species, many in full skeletal mounts. Photo by V. Kahn for PHLCVB.

Upon entering the building, the imposing T. 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 the tropical garden with over one hundred live butterflies of various sorts from Central and South America, East Africa and Southeast Asia.

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

Outside In is a children’s discovery center to explore and dozens of historic dioramas throughout the museum portray animals in their habitats.

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.

Survival of the Slowest is on display through September 20, focusing on animals that, despite being slow, have survived for millions of years. On March 29, the Academy will unveil its first new large-scale gallery space in a decade—the 3,000-square-foot Dietrich Gallery (formerly the Library Reading Room)—which will host the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit through August 23. The Academy of Natural Sciences is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

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