The National Museum of Natural History, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, was established in 1858 and opened to the public in 1910. The museum was the first Smithsonian building constructed to house the national collections and research facilities. The building contains 1.5 million square feet of total space and 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space. The museum's holdings include more than 125 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. The museum provides a diverse assortment of opportunities for research through internships, fellowships and other academic appointments.
The museum is located on the National Mall, four blocks from the White House.
Address: 10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20560
Hours: Open every day from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM, except December 25.
Admission: Free. No tickets are required for entrance.
Closest Metro Station: Federal Triangle Station
Museum information, please call (202) 633-1000.
The ground floor of the museum has a café, a museum store, and a bird exhibit. The first floor has an IMAX theater, an Ocean Hall, a Mammal Hall, the Rotunda which features a figure of a full-size elephant, and exhibits with dinosaurs and fossils. The second floor has the Hope diamond, a section about geology and minerals, and a section with insects.
The Easter Island stone figure on the ground floor is one of the first things that you will see when you enter the museum from the Connecticut Avenue entrance. The Mammal Hall is one level higher in the first floor. The Mammal Hall has models of aquatic and land mammals such as lions, rams, and giraffes. A manatee and its calf are suspended above the entrance of the hall. The IMAX theater lobby is adjacent to the Mammal Hall.
Visitors are encouraged to touch the cast of a 53 million-year-old fossil of the earliest known ungulate (hoofed mammal) in North America. Ungulates evolved to eat tough plants and flee from fierce predators. The first ungulates appeared 60 million years ago during the Paleocene Epoch. Today, there are about 207 species of ungulates.
The museum shop has books, specimens of minerals, ceramics, and jewelry, including copies of the Hope Diamond.
The Hope Diamond is displayed on a rotating pedestal inside a thick glass case. Every few seconds, the pedestal spins 90 degrees so that the people crowding around the case get a turn to see it. The Hope Diamond is about the size of a walnut and weighs 45.52 carats (9.104 g). It has a deep blue-gray color. The Hope diamond was mined in India in the 17th century. It has been owned by kings; it has gone through the hands of several thieves, and it has been the subject of many intrigues and stories.
The Hooker Emerald Brooch contains a 75.47 carat emerald from Colombia. Emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl, beryllium aluminum silicate (Be3Al2(SiO3)6), which is colored green by the inclusion of small amounts of chromium or vanadium. Emerald deposits are found in Columbia along fractures in carbonate rocks associated with hot springs.
The Mineral and Gems Gallery is on the second floor in a room adjacent to the Hope Diamond.
An exhibit illustrates the different crystal shapes of several minerals. Many of the crystals are rare because of their large size.
A cabinet of the Mineral and Gems Gallery is reserved for gold nuggets. One of the heaviest nuggets weighs 2544 grams (5.6 pounds) and was found at the Union Placer mine in California.
Several types of metallic and stony meteorites are displayed at the museum.
A section of the museum describes the Global Volcanism Program, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and the changes of land masses over time.
The entrance to the National Museum of Natural History from the National Mall leads directly to the Rotunda on the first floor. The Rotunda is an impressive two-story enclosure that features a large African bull elephant with an elevated trunk. The elephant centerpiece can be seen from many angles of the second floor galleries that surround the rotunda.
The Ocean Hall has whales, giant jelly fish, and many specimens of living and extinct marine life. The walls on the second level are used as screens on which the images of swimming fish are projected to create a sensation of motion. Walking in this room gives you the feeling that you are submerged in the ocean.
The exhibit about Human Origins has skulls and skeletons of several human ancestors. Museum volunteers answer questions about stone tools and early hominids.
Many visitors sit to relax by the entrance of the museum which is decorated with begonias, palms, and potted banana trees.
Along the entrance of the museum, there are vendors selling hot dogs, egg rolls, pretzels, soft drinks, ice cream, souvenirs, and T-shirts.
These pictures give a basic idea of what you will find at the National Museum of Natural History. There are many things to explore. Take comfortable shoes because you will be walking a lot. If possible, get there by Metro because it is difficult to find parking close to the museum.