Natural History Museum, Vienna

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Natural History Museum
Naturhistorisches Museum
Wien - Naturhistorisches Museum (1).JPG
Establishedbetween 1872 and 1889
LocationVienna, Austria
DirectorChristian Koeberl

The Natural History Museum Vienna (German: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien) is a large natural history museum located in Vienna, Austria.[1][2] and one of the most important natural history museums worldwide.

The NHM Vienna is one of the largest museums and non-university research institutions in Austria and an important center of excellence for all matters relating to natural sciences. The museum's 39 exhibition rooms cover 8,460 square meters and present more than 100,000 objects. It is home to 30 million objects available to more than 60 scientists and numerous guest researchers who carry out basic research in a wide range of topics related to human sciences, earth sciences, and life sciences.[1]


One of the museum's halls

The history of the Natural History Museum Vienna is shaped by the passion for collecting of renowned monarchs, the endless thirst for knowledge of famous scientists, and the spirit of adventure of travelling researchers. True to the spirit of the inscription carved into the front of the museum, scientists at the NHM Vienna have over the centuries dedicated themselves and their work “to the realm of nature and its exploration”.

While in the 19th century this was expressed through major imperial research expeditions to little-known corners of the Earth, today it can be found in modern DNA analysis methods and meteorite research providing insights into unfamiliar worlds and the outer extremes of our cosmos.

The earliest collections of the Natural History Museum Vienna date back more than 250 years. It was Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, Maria Theresa’s husband, who in 1750 purchased what was at the time the world's largest and most famous collection of natural history objects from the Florentine scholar and scientist Jean de Baillou. This was the first step on the road to creating the Natural History Museum Vienna.

Baillou's collection comprised 30,000 objects, including rare fossils, snails, mussels, and corals, as well as valuable minerals and precious stones.

Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, who founded the Schönbrunn zoo in 1752 and the botanical garden in 1753, also organized the first scientific overseas expedition. In 1755 he commissioned Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin to travel to the Caribbean, the Antilles, Venezuela, and Colombia. Jacquin returned from this expedition with many live animals and plants for the zoo and the botanical garden, as well as 67 cases full of other items of interest from the natural world.

After the Emperor's death, Maria Theresa gave the natural science collection to the state and opened it up to the general public. Thus she created the first museum in line with the principles and visions of the Enlightenment.

It was Maria Theresa who brought the famous mineralogist Ignaz von Born to Vienna. Born, who had developed a new method of extracting precious metals, was tasked with classifying and expanding the collections. To this end he had minerals from many different regions sent to Vienna, where they were added to the collection. Under the leadership of Ignaz von Born the cabinet of natural history quickly developed into a center of practical research.[2]


Expedition to the Brazilian rainforests[edit]

To mark the marriage of his daughter Leopoldine to the heir to the Portuguese throne, Dom Pedro, Emperor Franz II organized an expedition to her new home country of Brazil in 1817. Two Austrian frigates accompanied the archduchess on her journey to Rio de Janeiro.

Those taking part in the expedition, carried out under the scientific direction of the head of the history collection, included the researchers Johann Mikan and Johann Emmanuel, as well as the taxidermist Johann Natterer and the landscape painter Thomas Ender. The expedition lasted 18 years aimed to collect all plants, animals, and minerals of scientific interest and bring them back to Vienna.[3]

The Novara sails the globe[edit]

The most ambitious Austrian expedition was carried out by the SMS Novara, a frigate which sailed the world between 1857 and 1859. The scientific responsibility for this expedition was shared by the Academy of Sciences and the Geography Society. The man behind the project was Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, Commander in Chief of the Austrian Navy.

Among the advisors was the famous naturalist and researcher Alexander von Humboldt. Many well-known scientists took part in the two-year journey, including the geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter, ethnologist Karl von Scherzer and zoologist Georg Ritter von Frauenfeld. The entire journey was documented in hundreds of sketches and paintings by the landscape artist Josef Selleny. The scientists returned home with a vast haul of minerals, animals, plants and items of ethnological interest.[3]

The Tegetthoff travels into the ice[edit]

The last significant research expedition of the 19th century was the Tegetthoff North Pole Expedition (1872 – 1874) led by Julius von Payer and Carl Weyprecht. On August 30, 1873 the participants on board discovered Franz Joseph Land.

With the Tegetthoff at risk of breaking up under the pressure of the ice, the members of the expedition were forced to leave the ship. On May 20, 1874 they began their long retreat to the south, transporting their equipment and provisions on sleds and boats. Despite many sacrifices and great danger, the scientists returned to Vienna with both their invaluable travel journals and observations of the landscape, as well as a number of natural history items of interest welded into metal cases.[3]


From 1876, Superintendents:

1876 – 1884 Ferdinand von Hochstetter

1885 – 1896 Franz von Hauer

1896 – 1897 no superintendent, but temporary director: Franz Steindachner

1898 – 1919 Franz Steindachner

From 1919, Chairmen of the Museum Council:

1919 – 1922 Ludwig Lorenz von Liburnau

1923 – 1924 Franz Xaver Schaffer

From 1924, First Directors

1925 – 1932 Hans Rebel

1933 – 1938 Hermann Michel

1938 – 1939 Otto Pesta, “Acting Director”

1939 – 1945 Hans Kummerlöwe, "First Director of the Scientific Museums in Vienna"

1945 – 1951 Hermann Michel

1951 – 1962 Hans Strouhal

1963 – 1971 Karl Heinz Rechinger

1972 – 1978 Friedrich Bachmayer

1979 – 1987 Oliver Paget

1987 – 1994 Heinz A. Kollmann

From 1994: Directors General

1994 – 2009 Bernd Lötsch

January 1, 2010 – May 31, 2010 Herbert Kritscher, “Acting Director”

Since June 1, 2010

Christian Köberl, Director General and Chief Executive Officer

Herbert Kritscher, Chief Financial Officer[4]


Main staircase in the museum building

The main building of the museum is an elaborate palace that has accommodated these constantly growing collections, since opening to the public in 1889 as the Imperial Natural History Museum.[5] However, some of the collections had been moved from even older buildings, such as the Austrian National Library, which contained the Zoology Cabinet (German: Tierkabinett) collections.[6]

The interaction of the building, its ornate decoration, furniture and precious exhibits makes the museum itself an artifact for historical preservation.[5]

Famous and irreplaceable exhibits – for instance, the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf, a copy of the skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur (Diplodocus carnegii) (a gift from Andrew Carnegie) and specimens of long-extinct lifeforms such as Steller's sea cow – are displayed across thirty-nine halls. A contemporary presentation of the exhibits, using modern exhibition technology, has been possible without any destruction of the building's historical structures.[5]


On the upper floor (Hochparterre) precious stones, minerals (some with origin in old Renaissance collections) and meteorites (the largest display collection in the world) can be seen, along with large dinosaur displays and rare fossils, and along with prehistoric art works: the Venus von Willendorf, the skeleton of Diplodocus, a giant topaz crystal weighing 117 kg (258 lb), and the gemstone-and-diamond bouquet of flowers which Maria Theresia had made as a present for her husband.[7]

The first floor displays the species variety of the animal world, from protozoa to insects to highly developed mammals. Objects over 200 years old are of interest, not only on their own account but also as historical records for the history of science and the art of taxidermy: numerous stuffed animals of species either extinct, or extremely endangered, have made the collections irreplaceable.[7]

Note that some signs and explanations in the museum are in German, while much of the museum is in German and English following a recent renovation.


See also[edit]

Other major museums in Vienna


  1. ^ Jovanovic-Kruspel, Stefanie (2012). Natural History Museum Vienna - A guide to the collections. Wien: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien. pp. 5, 7.
  2. ^ "the history of the nhm vienna".
  3. ^ a b c "expeditions in the 19th century". November 2018.
  4. ^ "heads of the natural history museum vienna since 1876". November 2018.
  5. ^ a b c ‹See Tfd›(in German) NHM-Wien-overview, "Museum of Natural History in Vienna" (overview), Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 2011.
  6. ^ "History (Hauptframe)" (overview), Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria, 2011, webpage:NHMW-history.
  7. ^ a b NHM-Wien-preview-English, "Museum of Natural History in Vienna" (English overview), Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 2011.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°12′19″N 16°21′36″E / 48.2052°N 16.3599°E / 48.2052; 16.3599