Milstein Hall of Ocean Life

The American Museum of Natural History, located in Central Park West in New York City, was founded in 1869 when Harvard zoology student Albert Smith Bickmore submitted a proposal for the creation of a natural history museum. The Governor of New York, John Hoffman, signed the Act of Incorporation and made John Wolfe the very first president of the American Museum of Natural History. The museum’s collection, however, wasn’t put on display until 1871. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin



Eventually, the museum had to change location as the collection began to grow, and so a new building was built in Manhattan Square. The cornerstone was set in 1874 and the opening was in 1877, with U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Over the next 50 years, the museum, under new directorship, took part in many expeditions and was involved in the discovery of the North Pole as well as in the exploration of previously uncharted parts of Siberia, Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and the Congo.

Over the years, the museum added many wings and new exhibits, some from expeditions that unearthed such objects as dinosaur bones, and others gifts from generous benefactors, such as mammals from the Indian subcontinent. In 1935 the museum also added a planetarium and the following year built a rotunda, the Hall of North American Mammals, and much more was built on in the 1960s and 70s. Special exhibition space was created in the late 1970s and an educational wing was added in 1983.

In the last 20 years, the American Museum of Natural History has acquired a five-story-tall Barosaurus cast, added a new research library facility, and established the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. There have also been major renovations to several wings of the museum, and in 1997 the museum partnered with NASA to create the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology. A new planetarium was built in 1999 with a customized one-of-a-kind star projector and the Rose Center for Earth and Space was opened in 2000. In the summer of 2004, an earthquake monitoring station was installed and many other new and exciting halls and exhibits were opened or renovated. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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»Permanent Exhibitions

Permanent Exhibitions

Hall of Biodiversity- This hall provides an awe-inspiring overview of the abundance and beauty of Earth’s creatures as well as the factors that threaten them. Visitors can learn about ecological biodiversity by walking through a 2,500-square-foot diorama. There are 160 species of plants and animals presented in this display of the Dzanga-Sangha rain forest, which is one of the most diverse places on earth. There is also a Spectrum of Life exhibit that showcases the process of evolution and what it has looked like over the last 3.5 billion years.

Hall of New York State Environment- This hall features the vast diversity of New York State’s environment. From the plains to the Stissing Mountains, all the ecosystems are represented here. There are also exhibits that focus on agriculture and ecology in the state.

Hall of North American Forests- The wide variety of North American forests are explored in this hall where visitors can encounter enormous splices of trees from some of the oldest forests in America. There are also exhibits that talk about the ecology of the forest floor and how environmental stressors, such as wings and defoliation, can affect the forest.

Milstein Hall of Ocean Life- Visitors experience an underwater world in this hall, which has a 94-foot and 21,000-pound model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. There are more than 750 sea creatures on display in the Ocean Hall as well as several interactive exhibits and hands-on learning tools.

Hall of Birds of the World- This hall contains 12 different environments presented through diorama, representing the major biomes of bird habitats throughout the world, from desert to tropical and arctic.

Hall of New York City Birds- Visitors to this hall will experience over 300 species of birds that live in New York, from wrens to gulls and even birds of prey. There is also a display that specifically educates visitors about the now-extinct passenger pigeon. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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»More Permanent Exhibitions

More Permanent Exhibitions

Leonard C. Sanford Hall of North American Birds- Birds from North America are featured through 20 dioramas ranging from the Everglades to the frozen Alaskan tundra. The peregrine falcon is a highlight and visitor favorite in this collection.

Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians- This hall features amphibians and their importance in the process of evolution as the first vertebrates to live on land. Amphibians and reptiles are diverse creatures that range from small tree frogs all the way up to the Galapagos giant tortoise.

Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals- Minerals from all over the world are featured here, some weighing over four tons. Visitors can also learn about mineral classification and how minerals form naturally.

Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems- The specimens in this hall are precious and prized and include coral, amber, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Both natural and synthetic gems are represented here as well as jewelry that is over 3,000 years old.

Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites- Visitors can go back to the very origin of the solar system in this exhibit that spans 4.6 billion years of creation. They can also explore meteorite impact sites and learn how scientists can predict impacts in modern times.

Fossil Halls- Six halls make up the Fossil Halls and they contain ornithischian dinosaurs, mammals, saurischian dinosaurs, and vertebrate origin fossils that can be seen up-close and personal through life-sized casts and replicas as well as some genuine fossils. There is also a theater located in the Orientation Center that features a movie about evolution and diversification.

Grand Gallery- This is the lobby of the museum where visitors gather. A 63-foot-long canoe is suspended from the ceiling and there are many specimens on semi-permanent display here. This gallery also serves as the entrance to Gallery 77, which is where the temporary exhibits are showcased.

Human Origins and Cultural Halls- This block of halls is one of the most interesting because it dives back to the very beginning of humankind and investigates possible evolutionary theories. There are nine exhibits representing specific cultures throughout these halls, including Mexico and Central America, African Peoples, Asian Peoples, Eastern Woodlands Indians, Northwest Coast Indians, Pacific Peoples, Plains Indians, and South American Peoples. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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»More Permanent Exhibitions

More Permanent Exhibitions

Bernard Family Hall of North American Animals- This 43-diorama hall is one of the largest and showcases a snapshot of North America’s rich biodiversity. Large animals such as brown bears, moose, bison, and extinct mammals of the ice age can be found here.

Akeley Hall of African Mammals- Focusing on the large mammals of Africa, this hall features elephants and other wildlife, such as lions, gorillas, and rhinos, from the Serengeti, Nile River, and Congo.

Asian Mammals- Witness the Asian elephants in this hall featuring large mammals from India, Myanmar, and South East Asia. Buffalo, leopards, gibbons, and rhinos can also be seen here, along with tigers and pandas.

New York State Mammals- More than 50 land mammals are presented in this hall of animals that live, or have lived, in New York State, including cougars, elk, river otters, deer, and timber wolves.

Hall of Primates- This hall includes all mammals that are part of the ape, monkey, or human species as well as some close relatives of primates such as shrews. Visitors can learn about the connection between humans and our primate cousins.

Hall of Small Mammals- Smaller North American animals are showcased in this hall, which includes squirrels, wolverines, minks, and badgers. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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»Rose Center for Earth and Space

Rose Center for Earth and Space

This center is in the great Hayden’s Sphere, where exhibits on the universe and its 13-billion-year history can be explored. Visitors learn about the Big Bang Theory, the nature of galaxies, how stars and planets are formed, and how the Earth fits into things. Visitors to the center can also see a to-scale model of the universe.

Hayden Planetarium- This planetarium is the upper half of a sphere that appears to float inside a cube in the Rose Center. There are 429 seats and a custom-made projector as well as a 3D map of what we have so far observed of the universe.

Cosmic Pathway- This path is nearly 400 feet long and is a timeline of the history of the universe. One side is measured in millions of years and shows visitors how insignificant human existence is when compared to the universe. Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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»Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit

The American Museum of Natural History presents several educational opportunities and workshops for children, adults, and families. Adults can enjoy several different after-hours programs that feature lectures by prominent scientists or researchers. The museum offers nature walks for all ages and special programming tailored to children on weekends as well as summer camps, workshops, and several science affiliate programs, including STEM.

During regular admission programing, there are self-guided audio tours for visitors, a food court, and several cafés located throughout the building. Five giftshops can also be found at the museum. Address: Central Park West at 79th Street. New York, NY 10024-5192, Phone: 212-769-5100 Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

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Things to Do in NYC: American Museum of Natural History