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.’”

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

11 Fascinating Facts About Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Tamagotchi is the toy that launched a thousand digital pet competitors.
Chesnot/Getty Images News

They blooped and beeped and ate, played, and pooped, and, for ‘90s kids, the egg-shaped Tamagotchi toys were magic. They taught the responsibility of tending to a “pet,” even though their shrill sounds were annoying to parents and teachers and school administrators. Nearly-real funerals were held for expired Tamagotchi, and they’ve even been immortalized in a museum (of sorts). Here are 11 things you should know about the keychain toy that was once stashed in every kid’s backpack.

1. The idea for the Tamagotchi came from a female office worker at Bandai.

Aki Maita was a 30-year-old “office lady” at the Japanese toy company Bandai when inspiration struck. She wanted to create a pet for kids—one that wouldn't bark or meow, make a mess in the house, or lead to large vet bills, according to Culture Trip. Maita took her idea to Akihiro Yokoi, a toy designer at another company, and the duo came up with a name and backstory for their toy: Tamagotchis were aliens, and their egg served as protection from the Earth’s atmosphere. They gave prototype Tamagotchis to high school girls in Shibuya, and tweaked and honed the design of the toy based on their feedback.

2. The name Tamagotchi is a blend of two Japanese words.

The name Tamagotchi is a mashup between the Japanese words tamago and tomodachi, or egg and friend, according to Culture Trip. (Other sources have the name meaning "cute little egg" or "loveable egg.")

3. Tamagotchis were released in Japan in 1996.

A picture of a tamagotchi toy.
Tamagotchis came from a faraway planet called "Planet Tamagotchi."
Museum Rotterdam, Wikimedia Commons//CC BY-SA 3.0

Bandai released the Tamagotchi in Japan in November 1996. The tiny plastic keychain egg was equipped with a monochrome LCD screen that contained a “digital pet,” which hatched from an egg and grew quickly from there—one day for a Tamagotchi was equivalent to one year for a human. Their owners used three buttons to feed, discipline, play with, give medicine to, and clean up after their digital pet. It would make its demands known at all hours of the day through bloops and bleeps, and owners would have to feed it or bathe it or entertain it.

Owners that successfully raised their Tamagotchi to adulthood would get one of seven characters, depending on how they'd raised it; owners that were less attentive faced a sadder scenario. “Leave one unattended for a few hours and you'll return to find that it has pooped on the floor or, worse, died,” Wired wrote. The digital pets would eventually die of old age at around the 28-day mark, and owners could start fresh with a new Tamagotchi.

4. Tamagotchis were an immediate hit.

The toys were a huge success—4 million units were reportedly sold in Japan during their first four months on shelves. By 1997, Tamagotchis had made their way to the United States. They sold for $17.99, or around $29 in today's dollars. One (adult) reviewer noted that while he was "drawn in by [the Tamagotchi's] cleverness," after several days with the toy, "the thrill faded quickly. I'm betting the Tamagotchi will be the Pet Rock of the 1990s—overwhelmingly popular for a few months, and then abandoned in the fickle rush to some even cuter toy."

The toy was, in fact, overwhelmingly popular: By June 1997, 10 million of the toys had been shipped around the world. And according to a 2017 NME article, a whopping 82 million Tamagotchi had been sold since their release into the market in 1997.

5. Aki Maita and Akihiro Yokoi won an award for inventing the Tamagotchi.

In 1997, the duo won an Ig Nobel Prize in economics, a satiric prize that’s nonetheless presented by Nobel laureates at Harvard, for "diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets" by creating the Tamagotchi.

6. Tamagotchis weren't popular with teachers.

Some who grew up with Tamagotchi remember sneaking the toys into school in their book bags. The toys were eventually banned in some schools because they were too distracting and, in some cases, upsetting for students. In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article titled “The Tamagotchi Generation,” Andrew Ratner wrote that the principal at his son’s elementary school sent out a memo forbidding the toys “because some pupils got so despondent after their Tamagotchis died that they needed consoling, even care from the school nurse.”

7. One pet cemetery served as a burial ground for expired Tamagotchi.

Terry Squires set aside a small portion of his pet cemetery in southern England for dead Tamagotchi. He told CNN in 1998 that he had performed burials for Tamagotchi owners from Germany, Switzerland, France, the United States, and Canada, all of whom ostensibly shipped their dead by postal mail. CNN noted that "After the Tamagotchis are placed in their coffins, they are buried as mourners look on, their final resting places topped with flowers."

8. There were many copycat Tamagotchi.

The success of the Tamagotchi resulted in both spin-offs and copycat toys, leading PC Mag to dub the late ’90s “The Golden Age of Virtual Pets.” There was the Digimon, a Tamagotchi spin-off by Bandai that featured monsters and was marketed to boys. (There were also Tamagotchi video games.) And in 1997, Tiger Electronics launched Giga Pets, which featured real animals (and, later, dinosaurs and fictional pets from TV shows). According to PC Mag, Giga Pets were very popular in the United States but “never held the same mystique as the original Tamagotchi units.” Toymaker Playmates's Nano Pets were also a huge success, though PC Mag noted they were “some of the least satisfying to take care of."

9. Rare Tamagotchis can be worth a lot of money.

According to Business Insider, most vintage Tamagotchis won't fetch big bucks on the secondary market. (On eBay, most are priced at around $50.) The exception are rare editions like “Yasashii Blue” and “Tamagotchi Ocean,” which go for $300 to $450 on eBay. As Complex notes, "There were over 40 versions (lines) of Tamagotchi released, and each line featured a variety of colors and variations ... yours would have to be one of the rarest models to be worth the effort of resale."

10. A new generation of Tamagotchis were released in 2017 for the toy's 20th anniversary.

The 2017 re-release of the Tamagotchi in its packaging.
Bandai came to the aid of nostalgic '90s kids when it re-released a version of the original Tamagotchis for the toy's 20th anniversary.
Chesnot/Getty Images

In November 2017, Bandai released a 20th anniversary Tamagotchi that, according to a press release [PDF], was "a first-of-its-kind-anywhere exact replica of the original Tamagotchi handheld digital pet launched ... in 1996." However, as The Verge reported, the toys weren't an exact replica: "They're about half the size, the LCD display is square rather than rectangle, and those helpful icons on the top and bottom of the screen seem to be gone now." In 2019, new Tamagotchis were released; they were larger than the originals, featured full-color displays, and retailed for $60.

11. The original Tamagotchi’s sound has been immortalized in a virtual museum.

The Museum of Endangered Sounds is a website that seeks to immortalize the digital sounds that become extinct as we hurtle through the evolution of technology. “The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch,” The Washington Post wrote in a 2012 profile of the museum. So, yes, the sound of that little Tamagotchi is forever preserved, should it someday, very sadly, cease to exist completely.