The Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio is not like other museum where artifacts that commemorate history are stored behind display cases for viewing. Instead, this museum offers guests the opportunity to learn about the natural world around them, past, present and future through interactive exhibits, wild animal encounters, a planetarium, 6,400 acres of natural areas, a discovery center and, of course, galleries.
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In the 1830’s, a group of gentlemen began a collection of natural specimens that were housed on the public square in a two-room building. The space was nicknamed “The Ark” and the 26 men who collected and stored these specimens were called the “Arkites.” These men were the foundation of would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
In 1920, the museum of natural history was incorporated and the first director was instated. Over the next decade, a library and education program, the museum opened with exhibits to the public (1922), nature trails, and buildings were added—along with several collections being donated and collected on expeditions. The 1930’s saw the addition of an arboretum and planetarium, in 1940 the museum took control of the Brookside Zoo. In the 50’s the excavation team discovered a dinosaur and an aquarium was added to the museum. During this decade, the museum also relocated to its present location.
The museum did not charge admission until the 1960’s and it was only 50 cents for adults. The department of paleontology and archaeology was also officially established in 1967 and two more dinosaurs were uncovered in this decade. In the 1970’s the museum opened The Memorial Woods Garden for animal rehabilitation and the next year began a bald eagle program.
1974 was one of the most exciting times for the museum as Dr. Donald Johanson discovered the bones of a new hominoid species, Australopithecus afarensis, in Ethiopia and named her Lucy. The rest of the decade saw the museum finally becoming accredited and an Adopt a Student Program was initiated. Over the next decade the museum would focus on ecology and conservation; as well as, traveling exhibits and the first female director, Dr. Mary Taylor, was installed.
The 1990’s saw massive expansion of the museum which became the first to integrate geology and astronomy with a permanent exhibit that educated visitors about the planets in our solar system. IN the 2000’s more expansion and some very significant discoveries of human and dinosaur life and history were uncovered in Ethiopia and Canada. The museum also opened exhibits that explore DNA and race. In 2006 the museum surpassed a huge milestone of having educated over 5 million people in 84 years. Another major discovery was unearthed in 2010 by the anthropology team of a human ancestors older than Lucy by 400,000 years that proved human kind began to walk upright much earlier in history than originally thought.
The collection at Cleveland Museum Natural History is comprised of more than five million specimens and is considered one of the top ten collections in America. The curators of the museum conduct research globally and have uncovered many remarkable discoveries relating to human history as well as animal. All collections are organized into departments.
Archaeology- This collection is where articles that were made by humans can be seen. This department focuses on prehistoric Ohio and contains artifacts such as Paleoindian tools, bones from an Ice Age cave, artifacts from settlements around Ohio dating back 800 years, and a five hundred-year-old water craft. Botany- Herbs, moss and seeds are featured in this collection that represent plants that are native to Ohio. The herbarium has more than 75,000 specimens collected including some very rare and thought to be extinct plants. The Herbarium is only open by appointment while the seed share program is open to visitors during regular admission hours.
Human Health and Evolutionary Medicine- This collection is divided into two departments—The Biorepository and The Hamann-Todd Osteological logical collection. The former includes samples of teeth, hair, finger nails, hair and other human tissues while the latter includes human cadavers. The Osteological collection is the world’s largest collection of human skeletons. These departments are accessible only by appointment for qualified researchers and scientists with the right credentials.
Invertebrate Paleontology- Fossils of Invertebrates from across the world are housed in this collection that also has the greatest variety of any other collection at the museum. Echinoderms, rare myriapods, Arthropods and many other fossils make up this 79,000 piece collection.
Invertebrate Zoology- The research on praying mantises and dung beetles that this department has conducted is internationally recognized. This department focuses on insects and mollusks, but the praying mantis collection, with over 14,000 specimens, is the largest in the western hemisphere. In 2014, a curator and a student discovered 20 new species of the insect.
Library and Archives- The library has an impressive rare book collection with more than 1,000 volumes. This collection is not available to the public and is stored in a climate controlled, compacted storage; however, upon special request, items can be pulled for viewing and research.
Mineralogy- Crystalline materials from both earth and outer space are featured in this collection. There are also some synthetic minerals housed in this space as well. There is a moon rock and well as meteorites on display as well as many semi-precious stones and minerals, coal, and other geological findings. There are ten total collections in this department that range from slices of building materials, to jewelry worth thousands of dollars.
Ornithology- Dating back to 1830, this collection features skins, wings, and tissue samples. There are also 2,500 skeletons, nests and eggs that are available to be viewed for a cost by qualified researchers.
Paleobotany and Paleoecology- fossilized plants, pollens, and coal ball peels can be found in this collection that is accessible by curator approval only. Plant fossils dating back 542 million years ago can be found here along with 35,000 slides of pollen, and 4,000 cellulose coal ball peels.
Physical Anthropology- This collection includes human and primate remains and fossil casts. The uses for this collection range from evolutionary study to making casts for prosthetics. The Hamman-Todd Osteological collection and Non-Human Primate collection are both part of this collection and consist of skeletal remains that are studied for disease research. Human fetal skulls can also be found here.
Vertebrate Paleontology- More than 15,000 specimens from fish, amphibians, reptiles, and dinosaurs are in this collection. Some of the creature remains and fossils that can be found here include a giant predator fish from the Devonian Age, an herbivore dinosaur from the Jurassic Age and a Juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a dinosaur called Coelophysis baurl that is over 225 million years old.
Vertebrate Zoology- Crayfish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish can all be found in this collection that contains more than 50,000 specimens. Most of these creatures come from the Ohio region but there are some from Africa, Central and South America as well. This collection is only available to researchers with curator approval.
The planetarium was designed so that the architecture of the building would function as an astronomical instrument. Visitors can use the building at night to locate the north star through the angled roof. The outer covering of this building is embedded with fiber-optic stars that emits a soft glow that does not add to light pollution. The theater is handicap accessible with seating for 87 people stadium style.
Sky-Skan technology is used in the planetarium which is the newest and best equipment that allows viewers to journey through the universe virtually and zoom in on planets and objects that are moving through space such as meteors and comets.
The observatory is open in the fall and winter months from 8:30pm through 11pm. There is a refracting telescope in the dome, which can be rotated all the way around and is motor operated.
The Perkins Wildlife Center & Woods Garden was recently renovated and now boasts some pretty remarkable ways to get up close and personal with living animals from Ohio and surrounding areas. Visitors can venture below the water line and into the canopy of trees using winding pathways. Watch from above a pack of wild coyotes roam the forests and come face to face with Peregrine Falcons. Visitors can even glimpse inside the dens of red foxes and Bald Eagle nests. There are five distinct ecological communities in the Wildlife Centers and pathways that take visitors through, above, and below many habitats.
The Smead Discovery Center, located in the lower level of the museum, is the ultimate place for families and children to discover their natural world through interactive, hands-on learning and engagement. Kids can play with microscopes, participate in a fossil dig, experience the touch wall where they can feel the fur of a cheetah or skin of an alligator, make bird music on a piano and much more. There are also many special programs where an in-depth look is taken into specific topics such as bats, skulls, and the links between animals such as dinosaurs and turkeys.
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1 Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106, Phone: 216-231-4600
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