Birth of an Institution

2016-BZ-Events-1899-OpeningProgram-011-ThumbWhile we have high hopes for this little blog, we’re not talking about its birth here. Instead, we’re celebrating the 114th birthday of the Bronx Zoo, which opened on November 8, 1899.

Actually, the Bronx Zoo, formally known as the New York Zoological Park, was slated to open July 15, 1899. But heavy snowstorms the previous winter halted construction on the park for nearly four months. Indeed, by July 15, there was still much work to be done, as a To Do list held in the WCS Archives shows. From “Plan new water and sewers” to “Order birds and reptiles, generally,” a flurry of activities was underway.

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Pages from July 15, 1899 Bronx Zoo to do list. WCS Archives Collection 1001.

By November 8, 1899, though, the Bronx Zoo was ready for its debut. Arriving by special express trains arranged by the City, as well as by trolleys and even bicycles, over 2,000 visitors on that day flooded through its gates. At the Zoo, this opening-day crowd–a select group of politicians, philanthropists, celebrities, and scientists, as well as some ticketless visitors and neighbors–were dazzled by the animals, which numbered 843 on opening day.  They toured the twenty-two exhibits ready on that day, including the Buffalo Range, the Ducks’ Aviary, and the Reptile House.

Covers of New York Zoological Park opening day program, 1899. WCS Archives Collection 2016.

Covers of New York Zoological Park opening day program, 1899. WCS Archives Collection 2016.

Inside of New York Zoological Park opening day program, 1899. WCS Archives Collection 2016.

Inside of New York Zoological Park opening day program, 1899. WCS Archives Collection 2016.

Among the opening day speakers was Henry Fairfield Osborn, who later served as president of the New York Zoological Society (known today as the Wildlife Conservation Society), the organization that founded the Bronx Zoo. In opening the Zoo, the Society sought to encourage interest in wildlife and to promote zoological science. “What our museums are doing for art and natural science,” Osborn declared in his opening day speech, “this Park … will do for Nature, by bringing its wonders and beauties within the reach of thousands and millions of all classes who cannot travel or explore.” For Osborn and other NYZS founders, the Zoo was both a “new force in our educational system and a delightful pleasure-ground.”

New York City Comptroller Bird S. Coler, speaking on behalf of Mayor Robert Van Wyck, told opening day guests that when the joys of the Bronx Zoo “shall be experienced in the future by the millions of visitors who will come to this Park, there will be realized … the feeling that it is a pleasant thing–a glorious privilege, in fact–to be a New Yorker!”

Before the end of 1899, over 90,000 people had visited the park. And since then, millions of visitors–from New York and across the world–have delighted in the Zoo’s wonders.

So happy birthday to you, Bronx Zoo!

And, happy birthday to us. In future posts, we look forward to sharing more of the treasures held by the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives, discussing new projects underway in the Archives, and presenting an inside look at WCS’s history.

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