National Museum of Natural History

10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW Washington

Must-See Museums in Washington D.C./National Museum of Natural History
VAMONDE Washington D.C.
Written By VAMONDE Washington D.C.

National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It has free admission and is open 364 days a year. In 2016, with 7.1 million visitors, it was the fourth most visited museum in the world and the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum on the National Mall was one of the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to hold the national collections and research facilities. The museum's collections contain over 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts. It is also home to about 185 professional natural history scientists—the largest group of scientists dedicated to the study of natural and cultural history in the world.

History

The United States National Museum was founded in 1846 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum was initially housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is better known today as the Smithsonian Castle. A formal exhibit hall opened in 1858. The growing collection led to the construction of a new building, the National Museum Building (known today as the Arts and Industries Building). Congress authorized construction of a new building on June 28, 1902. On January 29, 1903, a special committee composed of members of Congress and representatives from the Smithsonian's board of regents published a report asking Congress to fund a much larger structure than originally planned. Testing of the soil for the foundations was set for July 1903, with construction expected to take three years. The Natural History Building (as the National Museum of Natural History was originally known) opened its doors to the public on March 17, 1910, in order to provide the Smithsonian Institution with more space for collections and research. In addition to the Smithsonian's natural history collection, it also housed the American history, art, and cultural collections.

Research and Collections

The Smithsonian gives an approximate number for artifacts and specimens of 127.3 million. More specifically, the collections include 30 million insects, 4.5 million plants preserved in the Museum's herbarium, and 7 million fish stored in liquid-filled jars. Of the 2 million cultural artifacts, 400,000 are photographs housed in the National Anthropological Archives. Research in the museum is divided into seven departments: anthropology, botany, entomology, invertebrate zoology, mineral sciences, paleobiology, vertebrate zoology.

Exhibitions

Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals

The National Gem and Mineral Collection are one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world. The collection includes some of the most famous pieces of gems and minerals including the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire, one of the largest sapphires in the world. There are currently over 15,000 individual gems in the collection, as well as 350,000 minerals and 300,000 samples of rock and ore specimens. Additionally, the Smithsonian's National Gem and Mineral Collection house approximately 35,000 meteorites, which is considered to be one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in the world.

Hall of Human Origins

The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins opened on March 17, 2010, marking the museum's 100th anniversary. The Hall is "dedicated to the discovery and understanding of human origins," and occupies 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) of exhibit space. Specimens include 75 replica skulls, an interactive human family tree that follows six million years of evolution, and a Changing the World gallery that focuses on issues surrounding climate change and humans' impact on the world. The Hall's core concept idea is "What Does It Mean To Be Human", and focuses on milestones of Human Evolution such as Walking Upright, Bigger Brains, and Creating a World of Symbols. Also covered is the Smithsonian's significant research on the geological and climate changes which occurred in East Africa during significant periods of Human Evolution. The exhibit highlights an actual fossil Neanderthal and replicas created by famed paleoartist, John Gurche.

Dinosaurs/Hall of Paleobiology

The museum has over 570,000 cataloged reptiles from around the world. The National Collection of Amphibians and Reptiles has increased 300 percent since 1970 to over 570,000 specimen records in 2008. The Hall of Dinosaurs has fossilized skeletons and cast models, including Tyrannosaurus rex cast facing a Triceratops cast. The Triceratops exhibit shows the first accurate dinosaur skeleton in virtual motion, achieved through the use of scanning and digital technology." The collection consists of 46 "complete and important specimens" of dinosaurs. In June 2013, the Smithsonian obtained a 50-year lease on a T. rex fossil skeleton owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. It is the first T. rex skeleton to be displayed at the museum, which until now has only had the cast of a skull. The specimen, known as the "Wankel" or "Devil" rex, was found on Corps-owned land in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana in 1988. It has since been on display at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana (which helped excavate the fossil). The 35-foot (11 m) long skeleton will be the centerpiece of the dinosaur hall when it re-opens in 2019. Only about six museums in the United States have a T. rex skeleton.

Hall of Mammals

The Behring Hall of Mammals has the largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world, nearly twice the size of the next largest mammal collections, including historically important collections from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Insect Zoo

The O. Orkin Insect Zoo features live insects and exhibits about insects and entomologists. Different habitats have been created to show the type of insects that live in different environments and how they have adapted to a freshwater pond, house, mangrove swamp, desert, and rain forest.

Ocean Hall

The Sant Ocean Hall includes 674 marine specimens and models drawn from the over 80 million specimens in the museum's total collection, the largest in the world. The collection includes a coelenterate-long North Atlantic right whale, a 1,500-US-gallon (5,700 l) aquarium, one female giant squid displayed in the center of the hall and a male displayed off to the side, an adult coelenterate, and a Basilosaurus.

African Voices

This exhibit and associated website "examines the diversity, dynamism, and global influence of Africa's peoples and cultures over time in the realms of family, work, community, and the natural environment."

Butterflies + Plants: Partners In Evolution

Featuring a live butterfly pavilion allows "visitors to observe the many ways in which butterflies and other animals have evolved, adapted, and diversified together with their plant partners over tens of millions of years."

Korea Gallery

The Korea Gallery is a special showcase to celebrate Korean traditions and examine its unique influence and complex role in the world today. The exhibit expresses the continuity of the past by highlighting enduring features of Korean culture that have influence and resonance today. The exhibit uses the Smithsonian ceramics collection as well as a rich selection of photographs, ritual objects, and traditional Korean carpentry to communicate and connect to both the local Korean community and an international audience. Traditional art forms, such as ceramics and calligraphy, along with mythological figures, language, large feature photographs and illustrations speak to a range of shared historical memories that connect Koreans at home and abroad. Personal stories of modern Koreans, as told in their own voices, provide a context to discuss some of the many issues that face the divided country today. Korea's incredible transformation from 'The Hermit Kingdom' to world power is traced through its impact on the arts, the economy, and popular culture.

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Must-See Museums in Washington D.C.

National Museum of Natural History

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