History 1869-1900 main content.

History 1869-1900


1869 • Albert Smith Bickmore, one-time student of Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, is successful in his proposal to create a natural history museum in New York City, winning the support of William E. Dodge, Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., Joseph Choate, and J. Pierpont Morgan. The Governor of New York, John Thompson Hoffman, signs the Act of Incorporation officially creating the American Museum of Natural History on April 6. John David Wolfe becomes President of the Museum the same year. 

1871 • A series of exhibits of the Museum's collection goes on view for the first time in the Central Park Arsenal, the Museum's original home on the eastern side of Central Park.

1872 • Robert L. Stuart becomes President of the Museum.

 • The Museum quickly outgrows the Arsenal and secures Manhattan Square, a block of land across the street from Central Park, between West 77th and 81st Streets, to build a bigger facility. Although funds are only available for the construction of a relatively modest building, architects Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould prepare a monumental plan for the entire Manhattan Square site, to include an enormous five-story square with a Greek cross in the middle that would create four enclosed courts with a central octagonal crossing, covered with a dome.

1874 • The cornerstone for the Museum's first building at 77th Street is laid by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.

The American Museum of Natural History's first building.
The Museum's First Building.

1877 • The first building opens with U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes presiding at a public ceremony.

1881 • New Museum President Morris K. Jesup launches the Museum into a golden age of exploration that lasts from 1880 to 1930. During this time, the Museum is involved with expeditions that discover the North Pole; explore unmapped areas of Siberia; traverse Outer Mongolia and the great Gobi; and penetrate the densest jungles of the Congo, taking Museum representatives to every continent on the globe.

1895 • President Jesup hires Franz Boas to be the assistant curator in the Department of Ethnology.

The Jesup Expedition.

1896 • The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians opens on the first floor.

1897–1902 • Boas organizes the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. In the entire field of anthropology, nothing of comparable ambition or scope has ever before been attempted. The expedition yields an unparalleled record of the life and culture of the peoples of the North Pacific.