Most people think of the Academy as a museum for little kids (which it is), but it’s also fantastic for adults with an interest in natural history and the history of science. The trick is to avoid times when it is crowded with kids (weekday mornings and weekend afternoons).
Founded in 1812, The Academy is the oldest natural science institution in the western hemisphere. It houses Thomas Jefferson’s fossils, almost all of the plants collected by Lewis and Clark, and many of the birds collected by John James Audubon (plus a copy of one of the large books of Audubon prints – they have a page turning each day at 3:15). But, the best part are the dioramas, many of which were constructed in the 1920s and 30s.
In addition to the North American, Asian & African specimens, they also have a section devoted to extinct animals, including the Great Auk and Passenger Pigeon (top photo).
One of my favorite areas is the exhibit and video showing how the dioramas were created. I love the creepy antelope cut half and the eyeballs and tongues!
Small, rotating exhibits are found throughout the building and library. On my last visit, I found this display of membership cards for Marie Curie, Ulysses Grant and Lord Kelvin:
Make sure to check the website for upcoming events. The museum frequently hosts lectures on current research projects. They also occasionally offer behind the scenes opportunities.
Members should definitely take advantage of the yearly Members Night, our vote for the best museum membership perk in Philadelphia. This is the one day of the year that researchers bring out their research, historians bring out some of the amazing historical collections, and staff get to talk about their passions. So much of what the Academy does is behind the scenes, so this is a great way to experience it in person. From learning that snails lay eggs to what goes into restoring the 100 year old dioramas – we LOVE member’s night!! I attended my first Members Night in 2018. Somehow we ended up spending 45 minutes talking to the mollusk researchers. Who knew land snails could be so fascinating, or that they laid eggs??!! Photos from Members Night 2018:
Tobey says: I like looking at the animals and seeing the live butterfly room.
The museum is currently working on restoring/renovating the dioramas. As of 10/21, 2 have been completed – the Mountain gorilla and the Takin.