The CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (inc. 1920) is the latest and most public in a long Cleveland tradition of institutions focused on natural history. Earlier organizations included the "ARK," the CLEVELAND ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES, and the Kirtland Society of Natural Sciences. Although these organizations disappeared by the end of the 19th century, the idea of establishing a natural history museum in Cleveland was rekindled in the 20th century by HAROLD T. CLARK. He successfully gained the support of 26 civic leaders who founded the CMNH in Dec. 1920. Seven years later, the museum became the legal successor of the Kirtland Society and inherited much of its collections. The CMNH's first headquarters were a business office in the Lennox Bldg. at E. 9th St. and Euclid Ave. In 1922 it was able to display its acquisitions in its new home, the former Leonard Hanna mansion on Euclid Ave. In the late 1950s, having outgrown the Hanna House, and facing eviction due to highway construction, plans were begun for a new facility. Between 1958 and 1961 5 interconnected units opened at what is now known as 1 Wade Oval Dr. in UNIV. CIRCLE. Later additions include the 7000 sq. ft. Kahn Hall exhibition space.

To fulfill its goal of providing public services beyond its own walls, the CMNH played an important role in establishing the Holden Arboretum and the Trailside Museums in the CLEVELAND METROPARKS. Between 1940 and 1975 the museum participated in the operation of the Cleveland Zoo; it also served as a leading force behind the creation of the Cleveland Aquarium, which it administered until 1985. In 1995 the museum maintained 12 natural areas in surrounding counties as sanctuaries.

Educational programs have long been a central focus for the museum. Its education department, established just 6 weeks after founding, was one of the first at any American museum. Over the past 75 years the museum has developed a curriculum for people of all ages. As a collections-based museum, the CMNH houses more that 1 million specimens in 11 disciplines, which form the basis for scientific research. Notable discoveries include: "LUCY," the earliest known hominid at the time of her discovery; dinosaurs haplocanthosaurus delfsi and nanotyrannus lancensis; and dunkleosteous terrelli, the giant Cleveland Shale fish. Each of these focused international attention on the institution.

Through an extensive publication program that included the Explorer (a membership magazine) and Tracks (the newsletter), the museum provided further information about its collections and research. Averaging 390,000 visitors per year, in 1995 the CMNH continued to fulfill its mission to "inspire a love of nature." J. Mary Taylor (appointed in 1987) was executive director of the museum in 1995.


Logo of the Western Reserve Historical Society

Finding aid for the Kirtland Society of Natural Science Records. WRHS.


Cleveland Historical Logo

View more on Cleveland Historical


Papers on Origin and History of, Library of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Hendrickson, Walter B. The Arkites and Other Pioneer Natural History Organizations of Cleveland (1962).

Johanson, Donald C. "Ethiopia Yields First `Family' of Early Man," National Geographic, vol. 150, no. 6 (Dec. 1976), pp. 790-811.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History Archives.



Article Categories