Abraham Lincoln's Picture

A Century of Exploration

100 Years of Exploration and Collection,
through November 3, Natural History Gallery
Illustration: Lincoln's life mask - made by sculptor Theodore Mills 60 days before the president's assassination. Mills later became preparator for the museum's Exhibits Department.

Since its inception in 1895, Carnegie Museum of Natural History has amassed more than 21 million artifacts and specimens from around the world, but only a fraction of them can be seen in the museum's halls. In honor of the Carnegie Centennial, the museum has brought some of its most interesting and unusual items out from behind the scenes for a special exhibit of objects usually seen only by researchers.

100 Years of Exploration and Collection reflects a century of work in anthropology, earth sciences and life sciences and presents the results in three distinct time periods: 1895-1920 highlights early expeditions and donations to the collections; 1921-1970, stresses growth in research and collecting; and 1971-present reveals important discoveries made by recent and current curators. At the entrance to the exhibit, three people behind Carnegie Museum of Natural History's long-term commitment to science are highlighted: Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the museum's founder; William Jacob Holland (1848-1932), museum director from 1898 to 1922 and a guiding force in the growth of its collections and programs; and Carolus Linnaeus, or Karl Linné, (1707-1778), Swedish botanist-taxonomist and father of the modern classification system for animals and plants.


The museum's crucial first 25 years laid the foundation for the remainder of the century.Under the direction of Andrew Carnegie and William Holland, exploring and collecting expeditions fanned out across the world, bringing back to Pittsburgh for research and exhibition thousands of heretofore unknown geological, fossil, biological and cultural specimens.

The renowned Carnegie scientists of the day included Carl Vilhelm Hartman, the "Father of Costa Rican Archaeology;" dinosaur hunter Earl Douglass; Herbert H. Smith, the "Father of Brazilian Entomology;" O.J. Murie, the famous naturalist; W.E. Clyde Todd, well-known for his ornithological research in North and South America; Otto E. Jennings, the leading botanist of the flora of Cuba and western Pennsylvania; and Arnold E. Ortmann, a prodigious researcher of freshwater mollusks in Pennsylvania and South America.

Carnegie's friends and business associates contributed to the growing collection, by supporting expeditions and donating their personal collections. Among these benefactors were Childs Frick, Henry John Heinz and George H. Clapp -- all appointed honorary curators of the museum.

Carnegie-financed paleontological excavations yielded important discoveries, earning his museum the name "Home of the Dinosaurs." An original crate containing some of the museum's first dinosaur bones is a highlight of this Centennial exhibit. The bones were discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass in Utah, in the area that is now called Dinosaur National Park.

At times during the first few decades, the museum hired professional collectors to expand its holdings worldwide. One object gathered in this way is a large nest of the dangerous Bolivian wasp, Chartergus chartarius, which was taken by José Steinbach in 1914.

The earliest known form of Chinese writing is displayed on a "Chinese Oracle Bone" purchased by the museum in 1909. Shang-period scholars used bone (usually ox shoulder blade) and tortoise-shell fragments to divine the future, cutting specific questions into one side, such as, "Will there by any trouble in the next 10 days?" or "Will it rain this month?" After heating the underside of the pieces, they observed how the resulting cracks ran through the questions.

Other museum acquisitions from 1895 to 1920 include Abraham Lincoln's life mask, made by sculptor Clark Mills and his son, Theodore. The mold, made only 60 days before Lincoln's assassination in 1865, was donated to the museum in 1901 by Theodore Mills, who was a preparator in the museum's Exhibits Department. Clark Mills was famous for casting in bronze the recently renovated Goddess of Liberty on the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Theodore Mills was renowned for his lifelike figures of Native Americans at the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1898 he was hired by Carnegie Museum to create similar figures here.


For the next half-century, Carnegie Museum of Natural History built on the world-class reputation that it had established in its early years, but with a slowed pace of exploration and collection, due to diminished financial resources and staff resulting from the Depression and World War II. Because of these constraints, curators limited their research mainly to the United States, and their collecting to the local area. Then in the 1950s and 1960s, funding from Pittsburgh foundations and state and federal agencies allowed for extensive research in Pennsylvania and adjacent states.

A well-known acquisition from the pre-World War II era is "Miss Kochi," a Japanese doll. In the late 1920s the United States and Japan began a doll exchange to improve international relations, resulting in 50 American dolls going to Japan, and 50 Japanese dolls coming to this country. The dolls are named after their cities (or Japanese provinces) of origin. During World War II, however, many dolls on both sides were destroyed. Miss Kochi, who was given to the city of Wilkinsburg, survived and is revered as a symbol of good will between the United States and Japan. She is dressed as a seven-year-old Japanese child in festival clothing, and has a complete complement of miniature trousseau items, including furniture, tea ceremony utensils and toys.

An exhibit of fossil sponges represents the collection that caused paleontologists to determine that sponges are animals, not plants. The collection of 5,500 Devonian glass sponges was made by Edwin Bradford Hall of Wellsville, New York, between 1860 and 1890, and is the largest of its kind in the world. After studying Hall's collection, two New York paleontologists published a monograph in 1898 that made the important determination.


A boom in exploration and collection characterized the museum's past 25 years, as the scientific staff and their research associates opened up new sites around the world. Continuing their extensive work in Pennsylvania and North America, Carnegie scientists have also developed ongoing research programs from China to Africa and Latin America. Recent fieldwork in China by teams from the museum's Section of Vertebrate Paleontology has led to the discovery of the oldest higher primates ever found.

Here at the "Home of the Dinosaurs," Carnegie scientists are continually learning new things about these long-extinct animals, including the 1978 discovery by paleontologists David Berman and John McIntosh that the Apatosaurus skeleton on exhibit in the Dinosaur Hall had the wrong skull attached to it. The misplaced skull was actually that of another sauropod dinosaur, Camarasaurus. The discovery resulted in a switch that now shows the proper skull on the Carnegie's Apatosaurus.

Most of the museum's scientific sections experienced growth in spurts at various times during a century, but the Section of Minerals has benefitted from two periods in particular: the first two decades of the museum's history, and the last two decades.

In the first two decades many fine gems and minerals were purchased for the museum by Andrew Carnegie himself. Primary among these purchases was the collection of W.W. Jefferis, a prominent eastern Pennsylvania collector. Among the Jefferis specimens is one of smithsonite, a zinc carbonate, which formed a cast of an ancient mine timber from the famed silver mines of Laurium, Greece. One could say that these silver mines played a decisive role in the development of western civilization. Silver from these mines was used to build a fleet of warships that defended Athenians against invading Attica in 480 B.C., thus preventing the expansion of the Persian Empire and preserving Greek culture.

Minerals from the various republics of the former Soviet Union represent the Section of Minerals' second era of growth, which developed around the creation of Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems in 1980. Among these newer Soviet specimens are pyrite crystals from Akchatau, Kazakhstan, dioptase crystals from Altyn-Tube, Kazakhstan, and calcite crystals with balls composed of a mixture of several calcium and iron carbonate minerals from Dal'negorsk, Russia.

While 100 Years of Exploration and Collection puts on view a wealth of fascinating objects usually reserved for scientific use, it represents less than one percent of the museum's total collections. But even after amassing 21 million specimens and artifacts over the past century, Carnegie scientists remain committed to their quest. Scientific teams have already begun a second century of seeking geological, fossil, biological and cultural specimens that broaden our knowledge of the history and diversity of life on Earth.