The AMNH fossil mammal collection is the largest collection of its type in the world. An estimated 400,000 specimens, representing 46 extinct and extant orders, 2808 extinct genera, and 7599 species are housed on seven floors of the Museum's Childs Frick Building. More than half of all the genera of mammals known to science are present in the collection. The cataloged collection contains approximately 2000 type specimens.
Collecting began with the 1877 expedition to the Bridger Basin, Wyoming, led by H.F. Osborn. In 1897, E. D. Cope's vast collection of fossils, which contained many important type specimens, was purchased; this became the core of the paleontological collection. During the AMNH Presidency of H. F. Osborn, and for many decades thereafter, the collection grew through global collecting expeditions led by AMNH vertebrate paleontologists, including W. D. Matthew, Walter Granger, Jacob Wortman, Barnum Brown, Edwin H. Colbert, and George Gaylord Simpson. In 1968, the fossil collection of Childs Frick, consisting mostly of fossil mammals, was donated to the AMNH. More recently, the collections have been further augmented by the active North American and international field programs of Malcolm McKenna, Richard Tedford, Michael Novacek, Jin Meng, John Flynn and their students and collaborators, as well as numerous Divisional Field and Research Associates.
Today, the AMNH collection of fossil mammals is recognized as a national and international resource for research and teaching in paleomammalogy, systematics, and evolutionary biology. Extensive use of the collection is made onsite by staff researchers, visiting scientists, and graduate and postdoctoral students, and additionally through loans of specimens to researchers at other domestic and international institutions. The collection currently receives around 50 professional visitors a year, who average approximately 5 days per visit, and makes about 30 specimen loans to other institutions, averaging 10 specimens per loan.
In recent years, curatorial efforts have focused on upgrades to specimen housing, including the replacement of substandard cabinetry and shelving; making specimen data and digital images available to the wider public via the worldwide web; and improving the standard of environmental monitoring and pest control throughout the collections. The Division has collaborated successfully with the AMNH's Natural Sciences Conservation Lab on a number of projects aimed at improving the standard of preventive conservation in the collection, and has received grant funding for collection improvements from NASA and the National Science Foundation.