In 1893, interest in collecting and studying the natural world was rapidly expanding due to: access to new lands through colonialism, a growth in natural history museums, and the impact of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection.
The Fair introduced visitors to species from around the globe, and ways scientists were exploring them. Taxidermy—the art of preserving animals in their skins—provided visitors with an up-close look at strange and possibly scary creatures worldwide.
This was also a time when the natural world was exploited in unprecedented ways. Taxidermied animals could be purchased as home décor, and as ornamentation for clothing. But even as this trend of turning animals into objects reached its most extreme, America’s first enforced wildlife preservation act was established.
Looking at our zoological collections from the Fair, it’s clear that the Western world was finding a balance between admiring, studying, and preserving creatures. Today, study specimens at the Museum—prepared not as taxidermy, but to preserve data—allow scientists to analyze species over time and help implement conservation measures.