The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is the nation's oldest natural history museum, and this month marks its 200th anniversary. On March 21, 1812, John Speakman, Jacob Gilliams, and others met to form an “academy” for the study of natural history. Its headquarters was first located at 121 North Second Street. The organization was founded “for the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences, and the advancement of useful learning.”
About three years later, the Academy moved to larger quarters on Arch Street between Front and Second Streets. The Academy officially opened its museum to the public in 1828, and by then had relocated again to larger facilities at George (now Sansom) and 12th Streets. Among its many collections were specimens of flora and fauna that were retrieved worldwide by local explorers. In 1868, its museum was the first to display a fully articulated dinosaur.
The Academy’s current home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was built in 1876. This marked its turn to modernity both as a museum and an educational institution. During its 200-year history, the Academy amassed a collection of 18 million scientific specimens, described tens of thousands of new species and pioneered the study of fresh water ecosystems. The Academy, which just recently entered into a partnership with Drexel University, remains a leader in taxonomic and environmental research and continues to integrate its staff’s many findings into its exhibitions and public programs. A special exhibition celebrating its 200-year history is on view at the Academy through the end of 2012.
Additional HSP articles regarding the Academy of Natural Sciences can be found on www.philaplace.org/search. The articles titled “Academy of Natural Sciences: From Science to War – Brooke Dolan II of the Academy of Natural Sciences” and “Academy of Natural Sciences: A Legacy of Awareness are by Katie Coleman of HSP.
Image: Watercolor of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1876