museums of science

North American Museums

Outstanding in developing educational functions are the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. Although most science museums cover the general field, there are many, including a number of university and college teaching museums, that specialize, notably in anthropology; one of these is the National Museum of the American Indian, Washinton, D.C., and New York City. The establishment of the Adler Planetarium, Chicago (1930), the Fels Planetarium (1933) of the Franklin Institute, and the Hayden Planetarium (1935) of the American Museum of Natural History have stimulated science museums to deal with astronomy. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, and the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia were pioneers in the field of applied sciences. The growth of local trailside museums, most of them in national parks, was stimulated by the success of Yosemite Museum (1921). The 1980s and 90s saw a number of new science and technology museums constructed in U.S. cities, and aquariums, which increasingly emphasized ecology in their exhibits, experienced a resurgence in popularity. Canada has notable museum collections, especially in Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec.

The Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States and the largest museum in the world, includes several constituent museums that specialize in particular areas of science and technology. There are many municipal and state museums of science. Universities and colleges that have notable museums include Harvard, with the Museum of Comparative Zoology (est. 1859 by Louis Agassiz, the earliest such collection in the United States) and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; the Univ. of Chicago, with the Oriental Institute; and the Univ. of Pennsylvania, specializing in ethnology and archaeology, especially of the Americas and of Asia. In addition to those already mentioned, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (est. 1812) and the Boston Society of Natural History (now the Museum of Science) are outstanding among American museums.

There are also many small special museums centering on limited fields of science or technology. Some are privately supported, others have been established by government agencies. Among them is the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Paper Making, Atlanta, Ga., which includes the Dard Hunter Collection (see Hunter, Dard); it embraces all aspects of papermaking and of the use of paper. The American Museum of Atomic Energy (now the American Museum of Science and Energy) opened in 1949 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Many private companies have established their own museums. Such private museums often have unique collections, e.g., the glass museum in Corning, N.Y.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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