When did the museum open?
The Museum of Natural History, Roger Williams Park, Providence, opened in 1896. It was founded by the City of Providence who owns and operates it. Its founding was precipitated by a donation of privately amassed mammal and bird specimens by former Providence resident, John Steere. The offer coincided with the museum-building era that characterized many American cities in the late 19th century. The museum was embraced by its local community as a source of civic pride and as a visionary monument to science on the brink of a new century.
What are the museum’s collections?
The museum houses more than a quarter million (250,000) objects. As is true of most museums, less than 2% of its holdings are on exhibit for the public at any one time. The other 98% is stored behind the scenes in climate controlled vaults under the care of the curators.
The museum’s collections are about 85% natural history and 15% cultural materials. Though many are of Rhode Island origin, we house specimens and objects from all over the world.
Among the natural history collections are 175,000 preserved plants and animals such as insects, mollusk shells, birds and mammals. There are also 15,000 earth science specimens consisting of rocks, minerals and fossils. The museum has an especially rich collection of plant fossils from Coal Age Rhode Island…these are older than dinosaurs being 350 million years old!.
The cultural collections consist of about 20,000 archaeological artifacts, mostly from North America. They also contain 4,000 ethnographic objects such as baskets, textiles, tools and carvings with special emphasis on Oceania and Native North America.
The museum also houses a wealth of informational resources an extensive document and photographic archive. The latter was inventoried in 1999 and chronicles in various photographic formats the history of Roger Williams Park (1872) and of the Museum (1896).
Where did the museum’s collections come from?
The collections have come from many different sources. Since Rhode Island has no state museum, many wonderful things have been gathered by state residents and people from nearby areas have found their way here. That is why the museum’s collections are such an important legacy. They tell us what kinds of things people in our region were interested in collecting. Since the museum opened in 1896 – that’s quite a lot of collecting history.
How are the collections cared for?
Collections are kept under conditions of stable temperature and humidity levels which are monitored daily by the Curators. All objects are handled very carefully. Each object in the collection has associated records with information about it, who collected it and where it came from. All of these things and many others help ensure the safety and well-being of the museum’s objects.