Museum History: A Timeline

Browse the history of the Museum, from its founding in 1869 to present day.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


  • President Jesup hires Franz Boas to be the assistant curator in the Department of Ethnology.
Several people on a raft made of logs on a body of water.
The Jesup Expedition.


  • The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, now called the Northwest Coast Hall, opens on the first floor.


  • 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.


  • Boas leaves his position at the Museum and begins teaching at Columbia University. One of his students is Margaret Mead, the scientist, explorer, writer, and teacher who will work in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1926 until her death in 1978. A pioneer, she brings the serious work of anthropology into the public consciousness.


  • Museum President Morris K. Jesup dies. Henry Fairfield Osborn becomes President. 


  • Carl Akeley, a pioneer in the creation of lifelike mammal dioramas, writes to the Museum offering to devote five years to the creation of an African mammals hall.


A man wearing a wide-brimmed hat, kneeling in dry soil with his hand on an item he is excavating.
Roy Chapman Andrews


  • Roy Chapman Andrews leads historic Central Asiatic Expeditions through the Gobi of Mongolia, discovering some of the richest dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Andrews and his team work there until the border between China and Outer Mongolia closes in 1930.


  • The Museum receives an extensive gift of mammals from the Indian subcontinent, the result of an expedition led by Arthur S. Vernay and Colonel J. C. Faunthorpe. Work soon begins on designing a fitting environment for these specimens, which will be mounted according to Akeley’s technique and displayed in dioramas.


  • The first major hall of mammal habitat dioramas, the South Asiatic Hall, opens, displaying Vernay and Faunthorpe’s gift of specimens.


  • F. Trubee Davison becomes President of the Museum. A. Perry Osborn becomes Acting President from 1941–1946, after which Davison resumes his position.
  • The Hall of Ocean Life opens on the first floor. The hall is renovated in 1969 to include a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling.


  • Legendary dinosaur explorer Roy Chapman Andrews becomes Director of the Museum.
  • The Hayden Planetarium opens.
A small herd of African elephants on exhibit in the Museum's Hall of African Mammals.
Akeley Hall of African Mammals.



  • The Hall of North American Mammals opens on the first floor with 10 dioramas.
  • The Akeley Hall of African Mammals opens under the direction of James L. Clark, the Museum’s Vice Director. Artists and scientists, led by Carl Akeley, had gone to Africa to sketch, photograph, collect, measure, and make molds of leaves, bark, moss, and other aspects of the terrain to make the dioramas as accurate as possible.


  • Alexander M. White becomes President of the Museum.



  • The Hall of North American Mammals reopens.


  • The Great Canoe exhibit is installed near the 77th Street entrance.





  • The Hall of Plains Indians opens on the third floor.
  • The Museum’s exterior is designated an official New York City Landmark.



A smiling woman standing outdoors among a group of smiling children.
Margaret Mead



  • The Frederick H. Leonhardt People Center opens on the second floor.


  • The Louis Calder Laboratory and the Alexander M. White Natural Science Center are completed on the second floor.


  • Robert G. Goelet becomes President of the Museum.
  • The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda on the Museum’s second floor is designated an Interior Landmark.


  • The Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals open on the first floor.





  • The Charles A. Dana Education Wing is completed.


  • George D. Langdon, Jr., becomes President of the Museum.



  • The Mongolian Academy of Sciences invites the Museum to take part in a joint paleontological expedition to the Gobi, the first such expedition to include Western scientists since the Central Asiatic Expedition in the 1920s. These joint expeditions now take place annually.
  • A five-story-high Barosaurus cast is installed in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, becoming the world’s highest freestanding dinosaur display.


An exhibition of an Allosaurus fossil skeleton mounted dramatically over the partial spine skeleton of its prey.
Allosaurus (Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs)



  • The National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology is created, in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Museum display of animal species representing biodiversity of the planet
Hall of Biodiversity



  •  The David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth on the first floor is the first component of the Rose Center to open. The customized one-of-a-kind Zeiss Star Projector (Mark IX), the most advanced in the world, is installed in the new Hayden Planetarium.The C. V. Starr Natural Science Building opens.
A wide shot of the exterior of the Rose Center for Earth and Space, taken at night, shows the Hayden Sphere illuminated with the New York City skyline behind it.
Rose Center for Earth and Space


  • The Frederick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space opens to the public. The Arthur Ross Terrace opens adjacent to the Rose Center.


  • The Judy and Josh Weston Pavilion opens, adding an entrance to the Museum on Columbus Avenue. The Discovery Room opens on the first floor.


  • The Museum opens the renovated Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Theater. The Museum's main auditorium, restored to its late 19th-century design by Josiah Cleaveland Cady, is a venue for scientific lectures, meetings, public programs, and large-format films.
Wide shot of the Hall of Ocean Life shows the blue whale, the dioramas on the upper level, and the walrus and polar bear dioramas on the lower level.
Millstein Hall of Ocean Life


  • The Museum opens the restored and renovated Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, which features high-definition video projections, interactive computer stations, hands-on models, 14 renovated classic dioramas, and eight new ocean ecosystem displays. The centerpiece of the hall remains the 94-foot model of a blue whale, now resculpted and repainted to more accurately reflect the appearance of a blue whale at sea. The Museum opens the reconceptualized and renovated Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. New exhibits, rare Moon and Mars rocks, and over 130 scientifically significant meteorites tell the story of the origins of the solar system.


  • The Museum installs a new Earthquake Monitoring Station in the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. The seismograph records and illustrates real-time seismic data for the public via a global network of seismic stations accessible in real-time to the Museum and other similar institutions.


  • The Museum marks the 70th Anniversary of the opening of the original Hayden Planetarium.


  • The Museum hosts the premiere of the movie A Night at the Museum, based on the Museum and starring Ben Stiller, Mickey Rooney, and Dick Van Dyke. Afterward, the Museum inaugurates Night at the Museum Sleepovers for families and groups with children ages 6 to 13.
Hall of Human Origins
Spitzer Hall of Human Origins


  • The Museum opens the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, which presents comprehensive evidence of human evolution. The new hall explores the most profound mysteries of humankind: who we are, where we came from, and what is in store for the future of the human species.


  • The Museum completes a major renovation and restoration project of the landmark 77th Street "castle" facade. The project included the repair and cleaning of masonry along the entire 700-foot-long south side and the complete reconstruction of the 42-foot wide arch of the porte-cochere. A separate but related project included the re-design and restoration of the 77th Street entry court, the new Arthur Ross Plaza.


  • The restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals reopen to the public.