Visual display of natural science has been a cornerstone of the mission of the American Museum of Natural History since its inception.

AMNH# 46326
Professor Albert Bickmore preparing an illustrated lecture in his study

Albert Bickmore, acknowledged as the founder of the Museum, became the superintendent of public education and gave lectures to New York City schoolteachers. He illustrated them with hand colored lantern slides reproduced from the growing collection of photographs created and collected by the Museum staff. Bickmore’s lectures were so successful that a new and larger theater was constructed to hold the crowds.

To expand the Museum’s educational mission beyond its walls, a lantern slide lending library was created which formed the basis of the Natural Science Study Collections that were delivered to schools by the Museum. In addition to the slides, the Museum delivered specimens and, later, model dioramas accompanied by lectures prepared by the Museum’s educational and scientific staff.

Exhibitions within the Museum building grew from the simple rows of specimen cabinets to more sophisticated representations of the natural world, both living and extinct. Fossil reconstructions of dinosaur and other paleontological specimens were and continue to be a mainstay of the Museum’s halls. The natural history dioramas in Carl Akeley’s Hall of African Mammals are considered masterpieces of the genre. Displays like the Haida canoe and the blue whale have formed palpable memories for generations of visitors. Special exhibitions such as Lindbergh’s plane and the Tuberculosis Exhibition brought timely and pertinent issues to the public.

Solidly based on the Museum's scientific exploration and research, AMNH educators, librarians and exhibition specialists have labored to make the knowledge and wonder of the natural world available to the public. Their efforts and those of their successors were, in turn, documented by museum staff and other photographers.

The Museum’s Research Library now manages the historical photographs and is following in the tradition of the lantern slide lending library and school study collections to make the Museum’s history and visual resources widely available for the people, for science, and for education.

For information regarding photographic material for publication, please refer to the Library's Reproduction and Licensing page.

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