The academy was previously known as the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia until 2011, when it became affiliated with Drexel University. It was founded by leading Philadelphia naturalists in 1812 and is the oldest natural science and research institution in the Western Hemisphere. It has been in continuous operation for well over 200 years and its current home, located just across the street from Logan Square, was built in 1876. It is now divided into a public natural history museum and world-class research facility.
Created for “The
encouragement and cultivation of the sciences and the advancement of useful
learning.” the Academy of Natural Sciences
of Philadelphia grew quickly after its founding in 1812. Its founders sought to gather together fellow
naturalists from the area to expand the scope and credibility of American
science. It was modeled after natural
science societies of Europe and was incorporated by the Pennsylvania
legislature in 1817. By 1820 it was the
leading natural science academy within the U.S. and it opened its doors to the
public in 1828. Its earliest members
included the likes of Titian Peale, Charles Pickering and Thomas Jefferson who
was a corresponding member. It later came
to include John Audubon, Thomas Henry Huxley and Charles Darwin (another
corresponding member) among its members.
As it as
grown, so too as its research departments and vast collections. It conducts research in the fields of botany,
entomology, and vertebrate paleontology among others. Its Patrick Center for Environmental Research,
founded in 1948, is involved with biogeochemistry, fisheries, and
phycology. The academy’s groundbreaking
Center for Systematics and Evolution studies the diversification of living
forms and the relationships they develop over time.
As for the
academy’s public half, its collection of specimens has grown to over 17 million
while its library and archives contains hundreds of thousands of journals,
volumes, illustrations, and photographs.
The academy’s museum is perhaps best known for its Dinosaur Hall whose
star attraction is a full-size, 42-foot, Tyrannosaurs Rex. The hall also features over 30 other species,
of which half are full skeletal mounts, as well as dinosaur eggs, footprints,
and murals. It also permits children of
various ages to become archaeologists in its Big and Little Digs area.
permanent exhibits include its tropical butterfly garden, which contains 20-40
different species at any one time; and its 37 dioramas, most of which were built
between the 1930s and 50s and are divided into North American and African and
Asian Halls. The academy also contains
exhibits devoted to mollusks and its unique What Eats What that examines the
food chain and energy flow of a small stream.
Its Library Gallery always has on display its double-elephant-sized,
original copy of John Audubon’s The Birds
of America. And its We Wrote the Book
exhibit rotates many of its more famous volumes written by prominent academy
members. The academy also hosts rotating
exhibits and past ones have included Dinosaurs Unearthed, Treasures from the
Mineral Vault, and Frogs: A Chorus of Colors.