National Museum of Natural History

Natural history specimens and ethnographic artifacts were among the earliest collections of the US National Museum. In 1910, the National Museum of Natural History building opened to showcase these collections. Wings were added in the 1960s, and a collections storage facility in Maryland opened in 1983 to help house the National Museum of Natural History’s 126 million objects.

National Museum of Natural History, Mall Entrance, by Di Loreto, James, March 23, 2000, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-8957. National Museum of Natural History, 2000
Image of the National Museum of Natural History at sunrise in late March. The image shows the entrance of the Museum that looks out onto the National Mall.
Prehistoric Archaeology Exhibit, Upper Main Hall, Smithsonian Institution Building, by Unknown (Thomas W. Smillie?), c. 1879, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2962 or MNH-2962. Archaeology Exhibit in Smithsonian Castle, c. 1879
Prehistoric Archaeology exhibit in Upper Main Hall (above Great Hall) of the Smithsonian Institution Building showing ethnological and archeological specimens, looking west c. 1879-1903. An immense painted Tsimshian housefront, acquired from the Northwest Coastal Indians for display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, is visible on the west wall at the back of the room. Numerous busts populate the tops of exhibit cases. Spears and bows and arrows from various tribes are decoratively grouped in patterns on the walls.
Mammals in the South Hall of the U.S. National Museum, by Unknown, 1887, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-12131. Mammal Hall in U.S. National Museum, 1887
The Mammals exhibit in the South Hall of the United States National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Building. The skeleton of a humpback whale hangs from the ceiling, reference books are on a table in the foreground, and the back of the "Statue of Freedom" in the Rotunda is visible.
Workroom for Indian Ethnology, A&I Building, by Unknown, c. 1890s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 3680 or NHB-3680. Ethnology Workroom in U.S. National Museum
Workroom for Indian ethnology located on the second floor, West Tower of the United States National Museum, now called the Arts and Industries Building. Three men are working with ethnological specimens all around them in the collections storage area.
Groundbreaking for the Natural History Building, by Unknown, June 15, 1904, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2009-2200 and 61657. Groundbreaking for New U.S. National Museum
Groundbreaking of the new United States National Museum Building, now the National Museum of Natural History, took place on June 15, 1904. As a crowd of observers looks on, a woman using a spade lifts the first piece of dirt. SI employees, Secretary Langley, and architects Joseph Coerten Hornblower and James Rush Marshall all attended the ceremony.
Construction on front of National Museum of Natural History, 1909, by Unknown, 1909, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-19551. Natural History Building Construction
Construction work on the south front of the National Museum of Natural History on March 27, 1909. The dome is partially completed, the columns have scaffolding, and the stairs have not been constructed. The stone slabs for the stairs have been placed in the front of the building.
Center Market Outside National Museum of Natural History, 1909, by Unknown, 1909, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 21941or MAH-21941. Center Market at North Entrance to National Museum, 1909
The Center Market outside the north entrance of the National Museum of Natural History. There are many horses and carriages lined up in rows for the market.
Construction of Natural History Building, by Unknown, 1909, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3231. Setting Last Stone on National Museum South Porch, 1909
Completing the heavy construction of the United States National Museum building, now the National Museum of Natural History, on May 11, 1909, at 11 am, workmen set the last stone on the south porch. The Smithsonian Institution Building is visible across the Mall.
U.S. National Museum Attic Storage in the West Wing, by Unknown, c. 1911, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-12611. Storage Area in New National Museum
United States National Museum, now the National Museum of Natural History, attic storage in the west wing. Visible is the false ceiling of Sackett board, intermediate truss members, and arrangement of storage cases and shelves. The cases are steel covered and the shelves entirely of metal. Some of the cases are open to show how artifacts are stored. The windows on the left are in the walls of the light well between the skylight and the ceiling light (from USNM Bulletin 80).
East African Lion Exhibit, National Museum of Natural History, by Unknown, 1915, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 24881or NHB-24881. Exhibit of Lions from Teddy Roosevelt Expedition, 1913
In April of 1913, East African lions, from the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition (1909-1910) and mounted by George B. Turner, are placed on display in mammal hall in the new United States National Museum, now the National Museum of Natural History. The building opened in 1910. Pictured are three full-grown East African lion with two cubs in a lifelike pose at an African water hole.
Rotunda of Natural History Building, by Unknown, 1915, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2004-10333. Rotunda of New National Museum, 1915
Mammals are on exhibit in the Rotunda of the United States National Museum, now the National Museum of Natural History. A giraffe stands at center in front of glass cases containing mammal specimens.
Natural History Building, as seen from The Mall, by Unknown, May 3, 1917, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2009-2203 and 29528 and 92-3583. Natural History Building, 1917
The United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History, building viewed across the Mall from one of the Smithsonian Institution Building's towers . The Old Post Office Pavilion can be seen in the background. In between the trees, a car has backed into a space and parked in front of the USNM building on Madison Drive.
National Museum Closes for WWI Work, by Unknown, 1918, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 23905 or MAH-23905. National Museum Closed to Provide Space for War Work, 1918
Clerks of the Bureau of War Risk Insurance work at makeshift desks packed into areas not meant for offices, such as one of the display spaces of the United States National Museum, now the National Museum of Natural History Building. The Bureau first moved into the building in October 1917. At the request of President Wilson, the Board of Regents closed the museum to the public on July 16, 1918, and made available to the government the ground and two exhibition floors (138,600 sq. ft.) for the duration of the war for wartime activities. The museum reopened to the public in April 1919.
William Henry Holmes and Art Museum Staff, 1929, by Unknown, 1929, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MAH 18052-E or MAH18052E. Ranger Exhibit in National Gallery of Art, 1929
National Gallery of Art's, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, staff view the Ranger Exhibit in the Natural History Building, December 10, 1929. Standing behind wooden bench, foreground, facing camera are William H. Holmes, Director, and Louise A. Rosenbusch, recorder. Helen H. Hogan, clerk, is seated and Glenn L. Martin, gallery attendant, sits at the desk, on the far right.
Hall of Extinct Monsters, National Museum of Natural History, 1930s, by Unknown, c. 1930, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 33835-C or MNH-33835C. Hall of Extinct Monsters, c. 1930
View of the Vertebrate Paleontology Hall, also known as Dinosaur Hall, in the United States National Museum's (USNM) Natural History Building (NHB), now the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). At the time of this picture the exhibit of fossil animals was called the "Hall of Extinct Monsters". Several dinosaur skeletons and other fossil animals are on exhibit and a mural of "Diana of the Tides" can be seen on the rear wall.
Visitors at the Natural History Building, by Unknown, 1931, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MAH 31020-D or MAH31020D. Visitors to the Natural History Building, 1931
A bus dropping visitors at the south side of the National Museum of Natural History building, United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), Easter week, April 1931.
Doris M. Cochran Working with Collections, by Unknown, 1954, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-949. Cochran Working with Collections, 1954
Doris Mable Cochran (1898-1968), herpetologist in the Division of Reptiles and Amphibians of the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), working in the collections area with her assistant, probably Barry Hampton, September 1954. She was appointed an aide to Leonhard Stejneger in 1919, Assistant Curator in 1927, Associate Curator in 1942, and Curator in 1956. She retired in 1968.
Gems and Minerals Exhibit, National Museum of Natural History, by Unknown, 1958, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MNH-083A or MNH083A. New Gems and Minerals Exhibit, 1958
The new Gems and Minerals Exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History. Part of the Exhibits Modernization Program initiated under Secretary Carmichael, the reinstallation features sleek terrazzo floors and curving modernist wall partitions to create architectural variety out of the classical beaux-arts formality of the original building.
Animals from Africa, Hall of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History, by Unknown, 1959, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, MNH-429 or MNH429. Animals from Africa, Hall of Mammals, 1959
Exhibit of two giraffes and other animals from Africa. The exhibit is in the Hall of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History.
Unveiling of Fénykövi Elephant, by Unknown, March 6, 1959, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2010-0609. Unveiling the Fénykövi Elephant in Rotunda, 1959
As viewed from the balcony, dignitaries and invited guests have gathered in the Rotunda of the United States National Museum's National History Building, now the National Museum of Natural History, to view the unveiling of the Fénykövi elephant. Donated by José Fénykövi, the elephant is the largest land mamal in the world on display at the time of its unveiling.
Uncle Beazley on Mall, by Unknown, 1976, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 76-13824-31A or 76-13824.31A. Uncle Beazley on the Mall, 1976
At the opening of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum on September 15, 1967, Uncle Beazley was placed in the parking lot adjoining the Carver Theater, the site of the first Anacostia Museum, now known as the Anacostia Community Museum. Uncle Beazley was later moved to the Mall in front of the National Museum of Natural History and then in 1994 to the Rhino Yard near the Elephant House at the National Zoological Park.
Nora Besansky Feeding the Tarantula, by Hofmeister, Richard K, 1977, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 77-10596-17 or SIA77-10596-17. Feeding the Insect Zoo Tarantula, 1977
National Museum of Natural History intern Nora Besansky feeding a tarantula in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo.
Irene Magyar and Tracy Siani Measure Skull, by Hofmeister, Richard K, 1978, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 77-7800-29A or SIA77-7800-29A. Naturalist Center, 1978
National Museum of Natural History Naturalist Center manager Irene Magyar helps volunteer Tracy Siani (left) measure a mammal skull with antlers.
Dynamics of Evolution exhibit at NMNH, 1979, May 1979, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2009-2572. Dynamics of Evolution Exhibit, 1979
"Dynamics of Evolution," the first exhibit hall in any American science museum to explain the basic steps of evolution, opens as a permanent installation in the National Museum of Natural History.
Aerial View of Museum Support Center, Suitland, MD, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1983, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 83-3821. Aerial View of Museum Support Center, 1983
The Smithsonian Institution's Museum Support Center (MSC), 4210 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, Maryland, is about six miles from the museums on the National Mall. MSC has storage areas to house museum collections as well as research laboratory facilities for the Smithsonian. The Center opened in 1983.
Children at the Discovery Zone, MNH, by Vargas, Rick, May 1994, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2009-2218. Discovery Zone in Natural History Museum, 1994
Two children holding costumes for a costume party held at the National Museum of Natural History's Discovery Zone. A bear specimen is behind the boys.
Ft. Pierce Marine Station, c. 1995, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2010-1064. Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, c. 1995
Image of the Ft. Pierce Marine Station. In 1971, the Fort Pierce Bureau, a marine research facility in Florida, was established as a separate bureau under the Smithsonian Assistant Secretary for Science. In 1982 the facility became known as the Smithsonian Institution Marine Station at Link Port, and was then administered by the National Museum of Natural History. In April 1995, the Smithsonian entered into an agreement with the MacArthur Foundation for the purchase of property near the Fort Pierce Inlet with access easement to the Indian River Lagoon for the purpose of relocating its facilities and program of research to a land-based laboratory. In 1998, the Station was renamed the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, reflecting its new location. The overall mission of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is support and conduct of scholarly research in the marine sciences, including collection, documentation and preservation of south Florida's marine biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as education, training, and public service.
Belize Marine Field Station, by Hurlbert, Don, 1999, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2011-1202. Belize Marine Field Station, 1999
The National Museum of Natural History's rebuilt marine field station on Carrie Bow Cay in Belize is a new 2,400 square foot facility replacing the structures destroyed by a fire in 1997. Smithsonian scholars study the biological richness of the coral reefs and mangrove swamps of Belize. The area is ideal for researchers because it is highly diverse in habitat types and plant and animal species.