The Academy of Natural Science is a museum of natural history in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Established in 1812 to promote the sciences and “useful learning,” it is the oldest American museum of its kind. In its infancy it organized expeditions into the wilderness, and explorers brought back new species of flora and fauna for study and examination. These expeditions formed the beginning of the Academy of Natural Science's collection of 17 million items.
Permanent exhibits include a steamy indoor tropical garden where butterflies fly freely around the room and can even land on visitors, and the large Dinosaur Hall. An icon of the Academy of Natural Science looms over guests in Dinosaur Hall, the 42-foot (12.80 meters) long skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. About 30 other dinosaurs are also featured in the hall, with half represented by skeletons. The academy has an online exhibit of the fossils that were once owned by Thomas Jefferson, including a mastodon fossil.
Child guests at the museum enjoy The Big Dig, where they can act as paleontologists to dig up a full-size Stegosaurus model. Visitors also can see dinosaur footprints and eggs. In the Fossil Prep Lab, they can see paleontologists and other museum staff working on real fossils that have been dug up at other locations around the world.
Youngsters can also visit the Academy of Natural Sciences’ children’s museum, Outside In. As its name implies, the children’s room brings the outdoors inside for children to see up close. They can feel a genuine meteorite, view bees buzzing in work around their beehive or search for shark teeth, among other activities. Animals are a big attraction at Outside In, including a rabbit, a lizard with no legs, cockroaches that hiss, a cowbird, and a tortoise.
Dioramas of animals in natural settings are a big part of the visitor’s experience at the Academy of Natural Science. Among the 37 dioramas are those that showcase moose, bears, bison, mountain sheep and musk oxen, while others feature tigers, lions, zebras, gorillas and antelope. The Asian dioramas feature a panda and a yak.
The museum first allowed public access in 1828, offering views of some of the collected items. All of them were identified with labels written in Greek and Latin. About 60 years after the museum’s founding, and after three moves because of quickly expanding holdings, the Academy of Natural Science settled in its present location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.