13 Facts About the American Museum of Natural History

Don DeBold, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Don DeBold, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City is celebrating a big anniversary this month. The museum was officially created 150 years ago on April 6—almost exactly one year before another New York museum, the Met, was incorporated. What started out as the brainchild of a 19th-century naturalist named Albert Smith Bickmore has gone on to become a major hub of education, research, and innovation. Here are 13 facts you might not know about this beloved institution.

  1. The American Museum of Natural History used to be located in Central Park.

The Arsenal building
Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons // No known copyright restrictions

Bickmore’s vision of establishing a natural history museum in New York City was realized in 1869, when the governor signed off on the idea. (It also helped that he had the support of several influential people, including J.P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the father of the future president.) The first exhibit opened in the Central Park Arsenal in 1871, but the museum's collection quickly outgrew the building. Three years later, the foundation of the museum’s first permanent building was built along West 77th Street.

  1. The American Museum of Natural History has been sending research expeditions around the world since 1881.

Each year, the museum organizes more than 100 research expeditions that visit destinations around the world. This globetrotting tradition dates back to the late 19th century, when Morris K. Jesup became president of the museum. During his tenure from 1880 to 1908, museum ambassadors explored the North Pole, Siberia, Outer Mongolia, Congo, and more.

  1. Theodore Roosevelt hunted animals on the museum’s behalf.

If you head to the museum's Akeley Hall of African Mammals, you’ll see a cluster of elephants. One of them was shot in 1909 by former President Theodore Roosevelt during a specimen-collecting trip to Africa, which was arranged by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. During this trip, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, and naturalist Carl Akeley hunted and donated thousands of African animals to the Smithsonian's network of museums, some of which ended up at AMNH. The trip was labeled a conservation mission, but as Vox notes, the rules surrounding big-game hunting in Africa were a lot different in the early 20th century.

  1. The American Museum of Natural History has more than 33 million pieces in its collection.

Only about 3 percent of museum's millions of specimens and cultural artifacts are on public display. Some of the pieces you won’t see include a giant squid beak, a 20-million-year-old butterfly, and a 21,000-carat light blue topaz. According to the museum, its collections grow by 90,000 specimens each year.

  1. The man who discovered T. Rex worked for the museum.

Fossil hunter Barnum Brown—a.k.a. "the greatest dinosaur collector of all time"—joined the museum in 1897 as a field assistant, working his way up to become curator of the department of vertebrate paleontology. He uncovered the first Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in Hell Creek, Montana, in 1902, and in 1908, he found a near-complete skeleton in Big Dry Creek, Montana. The skeleton came back to the museum, was given the identifier AMNH 5027, and can now be seen in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. According to Mark Norell, chair of the Division of Paleontology, most of the dinosaur specimens on display in the museum were collected by Brown.

  1. More than $400,000 worth of jewels were stolen from the museum in 1964.

After darkness fell on October 29, 1964, a 27-year-old surfer dude from Miami named Jack Murphy, a.k.a. “Murf the Surf,” broke into the museum’s Morgan Memorial Hall (then called the J. P. Morgan Hall of Gems and Minerals) with two accomplices. They climbed a fence, then a fire escape, and attached a rope to a pillar above an open window leading to the hall of jewels. After swinging their way inside, they used a glass cutter and a squeegee to break into cases and grabbed the world’s biggest sapphire, a 100-carat ruby, and other precious jewels. Murf had been inspired to commit the crime after seeing the movie Topkapi, which featured the robbery of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace Museum.

The men were later caught and imprisoned, but some of the stones were never recovered, including the 14-carat Eagle Diamond, which was the largest one ever found in the U.S. at that time.

  1. The pronghorn diorama contains real poop.

Some of the animal exhibits are shockingly lifelike, and that can be attributed to the thought and planning that goes into each display. When the pronghorn diorama was updated in 2012, little pellets of poop were added to the ground for authenticity. The feces had been collected from a ranch in Montana, then freeze-dried and plopped into place using a coffee scoop.

  1. It takes three days to clean the museum’s blue whale model.

The blue whale is the largest animal to ever live on Earth, so it’s only fitting that the museum’s replica is true to size, at 94 feet long. Suspended from the ceiling in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, the whale model is cleaned once a year with vacuums and long-handled brushes. From head to tail, the cleaning process takes three days to complete.

  1. One of its directors may have been an inspiration for Indiana Jones.

Before he was director of the museum—a role he held from 1935 to 1942—Roy Chapman Andrews was an explorer who went to sea to research whales and led expeditions to the Gobi Desert, where his team discovered the first-ever nest of dinosaur eggs. "I wanted to go everywhere," he once wrote. "I would have started on a day’s notice for the North Pole or the South, to the jungle or the desert. It made not the slightest difference to me.” According to the Roy Chapman Andrews Society, "Andrews—for whom adventure and narrow escapes from death were a staple of exploring—is said to have served as inspiration for the Hollywood character Indiana Jones.” (George Lucas, it should be noted, has never confirmed this.)

  1. It has appeared in a handful of movies.

Even if you haven’t personally visited the museum, you’ve probably seen it in a movie at some point. Most famously, the outside of the building and some interior shots were shown in Night at the Museum (2006) starring Ben Stiller. It has also appeared in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Wonderstruck (2017), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and Malcolm X (1992).

  1. You can spend the night inside the museum ...

For an unforgettable slumber party, kids between the ages of 6 and 13 can explore the museum by flashlight. Once they get sleepy, they can set up their sleeping bags in one of four halls: Ocean Life, African Mammals, North American Mammals, or Planet Earth. Grown-ups aren’t entirely left out, though. Adults-only sleepovers (ages 21 and up) are occasionally arranged, and those include a buffet dinner, champagne reception, and jazz performance.

  1. … And get married there, too.

The Rose Center at night
The Rose Center
Ralph Hockens, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

History buffs with an ample wedding budget might want to tie the knot beneath the museum’s blue whale or beside a Barosaurus. Several of the museum’s rooms, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, can be booked for social events.

  1. The museum recently updated a controversial diorama.

The exhibit, located in the museum's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, showed a meeting between members of the Lenape tribe and Peter Stuyvesant, the leader of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. According to The New York Times, critics of the diorama—which was created in 1939—said that it showed "cultural hierarchy, not a cultural exchange," and that it only mentioned Stuyvesant by name, without mentioning any of the Native leaders. On the exhibit's page, the museum notes that "the depiction of the Lenape reflects common clichés and a fictional view of the past that ignores how complex and violent colonization was for Native people." Rather than tweak the diorama itself, or dismantle it, the museum added labels in October 2018 acknowledging its issues—a solution that artist Amin Husain, member of Decolonize This Place, told the Times works "because it honors the fact that that was there to begin with, so it references the harm that has been perpetuated over the years. And then it says, ‘We’re going to tell you how that was wrong.’”

14 Famous People Who Survived the 1918 Flu Pandemic

National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Over a century ago, a deadly flu pandemic swept across the globe. The first cases of the so-called Spanish Flu—named because that’s where early news reports of the disease originated, though research has put its actual origin anywhere from China to Kansas to France—are traditionally dated to Kansas in March 1918. The disease ultimately infected some 500 million people, and estimates put the death toll anywhere from 20 to 50 million. The people on this list contracted the deadly flu and lived to tell the tale.

1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney sitting in a chair.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

If Walt Disney hadn’t contracted the flu, we might never have had Mickey Mouse. Even though he was only 16 at the time, Disney lied about his birth year to sign up for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the tail end of WWI. Then he got sick. By the time he was ready to ship out, the war was over.

2. Mary Pickford

A close-up photo of silent film star Mary Pickford smiling.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star was at the height of her fame when she fell ill; thankfully, Pickford’s bout with the flu was uneventful, but as the disease spread, many movie theaters were forced to close. Irritated theater owners in Los Angeles, claiming they had been singled out, petitioned for all other places that people gathered together (except for grocery stores, meat markets, and drug stores) to be forced to close as well. While stores were not forced to close, schools were and public gatherings were banned.

3. David Lloyd George

David Lloyd George sitting outside with his dog and reading a newspaper.
Ernest H. Mills // Getty Images

Weeks before the end of World War I, Lloyd, Prime Minister of the UK at the time, came very close to dying of the flu. He was confined to his bed for nine days, had to wear a respirator, and was accompanied by a doctor for over a month. Because it was thought that news of the Prime Minister’s illness would hurt the morale of the British people and “encourage the enemy,” his condition was kept mostly hidden from the press.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of a young Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

In 1918, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and had been in Europe for two months before contracting the flu on the boat home. The New York Times described his illness as “a slight attack of pneumonia caused by Spanish influenza.” Roosevelt convalesced at his mother’s New York City home until he was well enough to head back to Washington, D.C.

5. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson circa 1912.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Considering Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and he was dealing with the end of WWI, early 1919 was a seriously inconvenient time to get sick. Not only did he get the flu, but he fell ill so violently and so quickly that his doctors were sure he had been poisoned. When Wilson was well enough to rejoin the “Big Three” negotiations a few days later, people commented on how weak and out of it he seemed.

6. Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II in his uniform.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the German Kaiser was undoubtedly upset to get sick himself, he had reason to be happy about the flu epidemic, or so he thought. One of his military generals insisted—despite the fact that the surgeon general disagreed—that the illness would decimate the French troops, while leaving the Germans mostly unharmed. Since Germany needed a miracle to win the war, the flu must have seemed like a godsend. In the end, it ravaged all armies pretty much equally, and Germany surrendered.

7. John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing in uniform sitting on a horse.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the great American general got sick himself, the flu gave him a much larger problem. His troops were dying at a faster rate from illness than from bullets. Soon there were more than 16,000 cases among U.S. troops in Europe alone. Pershing was forced to ask the government for more than 30 mobile hospitals and 1500 nurses in just over a week.

8. Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie sitting in a chair drinking tea.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The future emperor of Ethiopia was one of the first Ethiopians to contract the disease. His country was woefully unprepared for the epidemic: There were only four doctors in the capital available to treat patients. Selassie survived, but it's unknown how many people the flu killed in Ethiopia; it killed 7 percent of the population of neighboring British Somaliland.

9. Leo Szilard

A black and white photo of Leo Szilard in a suit and tie.
Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You may not have heard of him, but the atomic scientist Leo Szilard might have saved the world. While he survived the flu during WWI (he was supposedly cured by spending time in a humid room, the standard treatment for respiratory illness at the time), what he should be remembered for is his foresight before WWII. When he and other physicists were discovering different aspects of nuclear fission, he persuaded his colleagues to keep quiet about it, so that the Nazis wouldn’t get any closer to making an atomic bomb.

10. Katherine Anne Porter

Author Katherine Anne Porter sitting in a chair wearing a hat with a bow on it.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The author turned her experience with sickness in 1918 into a short novel called Pale Horse, Pale Rider. The story is told by a woman with the flu who is tended to by a young soldier. While she recovers, he contracts the disease and dies.

11. Alfonso XIII

The King of Spain working at his desk.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alfonso was the King of Spain when the “Spanish” flu hit, and he was not immune to its outbreak. The flu was no worse in Spain than anywhere else, but unlike most journalists in other countries—who were under wartime censorship—the Spanish media actually covered the pandemic, leading to an unfair association that persists to this day.

12. Edvard Munch

A portrait of Edvard Munch standing in the snow.
Nasjonalbiblioteket, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Munch, the artist behind The Scream, had an apparent obsession with sickness and death long before he came down with the flu—he painted many works on the subject. But the flu obviously affected him especially: He painted a few self-portraits of both his illness and shortly after his recovery.

13. Lillian Gish

A portrait of Lillian Gish.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star started feeling sick during a costume fitting and collapsed with a 104-degree fever when she got home. Fortunately, she could afford a doctor and two nurses to attend to her around the clock. While she recovered, it wasn’t all good news. Gish complained later, “The only disagreeable thing was that it left me with flannel nightgowns—have to wear them all winter—horrible things.”

14. Clementine Churchill

Clementine Churchill speaks at a microphone.
Arthur Tanner/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While Winston was in France in 1919, the Churchill household—including his wife Clementine and their nanny Isabelle, who was looking after their young daughter Marigold—contracted the flu. According to Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames, Isabelle grew delirious and took Marigold from her cot despite being sick herself. Clementine grabbed the child and was anxious for days about Marigold’s condition. Isabelle died of the flu, but Clementine and Marigold survived. (Sadly, Marigold would die from a bacterial infection that developed into sepsis in 1921.)

During World War II, Clementine served as a close adviser to Winston. She was also the “Chairman” of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, which raised 8 million pounds during WWII and resulted in her being awarded the Soviet Order of the Red Banner of Labor, being made a Dame, and being given a 19th century glass fruit bowl from Stalin. Churchill’s Chief Staff Officer, General Hastings “Pug” Ismay, would later comment that without Clementine the “history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story.”

7 Timeless Facts About Paul Rudd

Rich Fury, Getty Images
Rich Fury, Getty Images

Younger fans may know Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, one of the newest members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the actor has been a Hollywood mainstay for half his life.

Rudd's breakout role came in 1995’s Clueless, where he played Josh, Alicia Silverstone's charming love interest in Amy Heckerling's beloved spin on Jane Austen's Emma. In the 2000s, Rudd became better known for his comedic work when he starred in movies like Wet Hot American Summer (2001), Anchorman (2004), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), and I Love You, Man (2009).

It wasn’t until 2015 that Rudd stepped into the ever-growing world of superhero movies when he was cast as Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and became part of the MCU.

Rudd has proven he can take on any part, serious or goofy. More amazingly, he never seems to age. But in honor of (what is allegedly) his 51st birthday on April 6, here are some things you might not have known about the star.

1. Paul Rudd is technically Paul Rudnitzky.

Though Paul Rudd was born in Passaic, New Jersey, both of his parents hail from London—his father was from Edgware and his mother from Surbiton. Both of his parents were descendants of Jewish immigrants who moved to England from from Russia and Poland. Rudd’s last name was actually Rudnitzky, but it was changed by his grandfather.

2. Paul Rudd's parents are second cousins.

In a 2017 episode of Finding Your Roots, Rudd learned that his parents were actually second cousins. Rudd responded to the discovery in typical comedic fashion: "Which explains why I have six nipples." He also wondered what that meant for his own family. "Does this make my son also my uncle?," he asked.

3. Paul Rudd loved comic books as a kid.

While Rudd did read Marvel Comics as a kid, he preferred Archie Comics and other funny stories. His English cousins would send him British comics, too, like Beano and Dandy, which he loved.

4. Paul Rudd wanted to play Christian in Clueless. And Murray.

Clueless would have been a completely different movie if Rudd had been cast as the suave Christian instead of the cute older step-brother-turned-love-interest Josh. But before he was cast as Cher’s beau, he initially wanted the role of the “ringa ding kid” Christian.

"I thought Justin Walker’s character, Christian, was a really good part," Rudd told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. "It was a cool idea, something I’d never seen in a movie before—the cool gay kid. And then I asked to read for Donald Faison's part, because I thought he was kind of a funny hip-hop wannabe. I didn’t realize that the character was African-American.”

5. Paul Rudd idolizes Paul Newman.

In a 2008 interview for Role Models, which he both co-wrote and starred in, Rudd was asked about his real-life role model. He answered Paul Newman, saying he admired the legendary actor because he gave a lot to the world before leaving it.

6. Before Paul Rudd was Ant-Man, he wanted to be Adam Ant.

In a 2011 interview with Grantland, Rudd talked about his teenage obsession with '80s English rocker Adam Ant. "Puberty hit me like a Mack truck, and my hair went from straight to curly overnight," Rudd explained. "But it was an easier pill to swallow because Adam Ant had curly hair. I used to ask my mom to try and shave my head on the sides to give me a receding hairline because Adam Ant had one. I didn’t know what a receding hairline was. I just thought he looked cool. She said, 'Absolutely not,' but I was used to that."

Ant wasn't the only musician Rudd tried to emulate. "[My mom] also shot me down when I asked if I could bleach just the top of my head like Howard Jones. Any other kid would’ve been like, 'F*** you, mom! I’m bleaching my hair.' I was too nice," he said.

7. Romeo + Juliet wasn’t Paul Rudd's first go as a Shakespearean actor.

Yet another one of Rudd's iconic '90s roles was in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, but it was far from the actor's first brush with Shakespeare. Rudd spent three years studying Jacobean theater in Oxford, England, and starred in a production of Twelfth Night. He was described by his director, Sir Nicholas Hytner, as having “emotional and intellectual volatility.” Hytner’s praise was a big deal, considering he was the director of London's National Theatre from 2003 until 2015.

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