A wax museum features a collection of lifelike wax figures typically representing celebrities. Many wax museums also feature a "Chamber of Horrors" depicting famous criminals in the act and other gruesome scenes. Guests to a wax museum are usually allowed to take photographs of themselves with the wax figures.
Marie Tussaud is credited with the invention of the wax museum. She learned the art of wax modeling from her employer, Dr. Philippe Curtius, and became a celebrity in late 18th century Paris, sculpting such famous figures of the day as Voltaire and Marie Antoinette. Though she was imprisoned and scheduled for execution, she was released because of her skill as a wax sculptor.
Marie Tussaud opened her first permanent wax museum, including a Chamber of Horrors depicting the excesses of the French Revolution that she narrowly escaped, on Baker Street in London in 1835. In 1884, it moved to Marylebone Road, where it remains today. Madame Tussaud's wax museum has been a popular tourist attraction since it opened, and it now has branches in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York City, and Las Vegas. Additional locations in Hollywood and Washington, D. C. are planned.
In addition to Madame Tussauds, there are many independent wax museums, usually located in tourist areas. The Movieland Wax Museum, opened in 1962 in Buena Park, California, was the largest wax museum in the United States until it closed in 2005. Other notable wax museums include the Fisherman's Wharf Wax Museum in San Francisco, California and the Royal London Wax Museum in Victoria, British Columbia.
Some wax museums portray a particular theme. The Hollywood Wax Museum in Hollywood, California offers a collection of wax figures depicting movie stars and movie monsters. The National Great Blacks Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is a tribute to African American history, depicting notable black figures throughout U.S. history as well as the horrors of slavery. The Castle of Diósgyőr wax museum in Hungary depicts a number of scenes from medieval life. It is also common for wax museums to depict important figures and moments in the history of the country or town where they are located.