The Peale Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland, features paintings and natural history exhibits. It is the oldest museum building in the Western Hemisphere. Also known as the American Museum or simply as "The Museum," Peale Museum is the product of a resourceful, versatile, and passionate artist and showman, Charles Willson Peale. The museum is managed by the Baltimore Historical Society.
Charles Peale received his inspiration for a public museum in 1783, while describing mastodon fossils belonging to Dr. John Morgan. He conceived the idea of an American museum of natural history and opened a museum to the public in Philadelphia, in July 1786.
In 1810, Peale retired from his work with the museum, leaving its management and responsibility to his sons.
Later, in 1814, a museum was established at 225 North Holliday Street by Rembrandt Peale, Charles' second son. It was then dubbed "Peale's Baltimore Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts," whose early exhibits featured portraits of famous Americans (many by the founder), and the complete skeleton of a prehistoric mastodon, exhumed by Peale in 1801.
In 1830, the museum was sold, and the exhibits were moved to a space on Calvert Street. In the next several years, the building became home to Baltimore's first City Hall, Number 1 Colored Primary School, and was rented out to a series of private businesses.
By 1928, it had been repeatedly condemned and was in danger of demolition. With the inspiration of historians and journalists, the restoration of the old museum took place at a cost of $80,000. The building was rededicated in 1931, as the Municipal Museum of Baltimore.
The museum underwent a major renovation in 1979, reopening in 1981 as Peale Museum. In 1985, the museum became part of the City Life Museums system.
Starting with a combination of Peale's portraits of Revolutionary War heroes and an assortment of curiosities, the museum's collection, over time, dominated the displays of animal, mineral, and ethnographic specimens.
Thus, the museum became a repository for the collection of the American Philosophical Society, including many fossils donated by Thomas Jefferson. The centerpiece of Peale's Museum is the skeleton of a "Giant Mammoth," also known as a mastodon.
It its early heyday, the museum occupied parts of two substantial buildings. Independence Hall housed three rooms - the Quadruped Room, displaying 90 specimens of mammals; the Long Room, with more than 700 bird specimens situated in mini-dioramas; about 4,000 insects in glass cases, numerous minerals, scores of Peale's portraits, and a third room showcasing marine specimens. The walls of the museum were surmounted by a large collection of portraits of American politicians and leaders.
The Peale Museum also became home to many of the Native American artifacts and natural history specimens collected during the Lewis and Clark and other government-sponsored expeditions.
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