Memory StreamDipping into Philadelphia's illustrated past

Posted: March 18, 2012

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, and "for the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences, and the advancement of useful learning." Its original headquarters was 121 N. Second St.

About three years later, the academy moved to larger quarters on Arch Street, between Front Street and Second. It 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 has 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 recently entered into a partnership with Drexel University, remains a leader in taxonomic and environmental research, and it 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.

Content and images provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For more stories, visit www.hsp.org.

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