When the current Natural History Museum building opened in 1910, a Triceratops skeleton rode a horse-drawn cart to its new home, along with approximately 10 million other objects. Artifacts of natural history had been on display in other museums within the Smithsonian system since 1846, but had not found a permanent residence until the construction of the Natural History Museum building. Today, several craggy reptilian silhouettes cast shadows across what was originally titled the "Hall of Extinct Monsters," and a new triceratops skeleton has replaced its intrepid forebear.
The National Museum of Natural History is the size of 18 football fields, but despite its vastness, its exhibits are often intimate, inviting you to notice the minute details of the natural world. Children and adults press their faces to the incandescent aquarium in Ocean Hall, exclaiming as tiny fish dart among exuberantly colored corals. A revolving globe, illuminated by projectors, demonstrates what happens when "Air Meets Ocean," as a narrator explains how currents can take up to 1,000 years to travel the global ocean system, or how storms like Hurricane Katrina are shaped so directly by the sea. Around the corner, the fossil of a 40-million year old whale extends a reminder that ancient history can be just as awe-inspiring as a digital ocean.
In the Geology, Gems and Minerals exhibit, the deep blue Hope Diamond glitters in its case, greeted by the gasps and reverential whispers of visitors eager to examine one of Earth's most treasured stones. Brought from India to King Louis XIV of France in 1668, the allegedly cursed gem left a transcontinental trail of death in its wake until Harry Winston Inc. purchased it in 1949 and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution ten years later. Since then, the diamond has remained harmless – shackled in its glittering settings and surrounded by further examples of nature's extraordinary artistry.
Other exhibits invite more exploration and interaction. Touch casts of our ancestors' skulls in Human Origins, where you can also choose to digitally transform your features into those of an early human. For a $6 ticket ($5 for children), plunge into the butterfly pavilion, where brilliant winged insects flutter above visitors' heads and bejewel the surrounding garden. The Evolution Trail guides you throughout the museum and offers insight into the influence of environmental change in Ice Age Hall and the adaptation of a giraffe's long neck in the Hall of Mammals. The trail binds the exhibits together, uniting each disparate display into an enormous global history of adaptation, innovation, and natural selection.
With almost 90% of the Institution's collection, the Museum of Natural History is the largest of all the Smithsonian museums. Its magnitude and diversity valiantly attempt to explain the complex beauty and fascinating curiosities of Earth and its inhabitants to those who live in wonder.
- 10am to 5:30pm every day except December 25. Check the website for extended hours.
- Metro Stop:
- Blue Line or Orange Line to Smithsonian Station, or Green Line or Yellow Line to Archives Station.
- Location: 10th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC
- Phone: 202-357-1729
- Website: www.mnh.si.edu