The collections and galleries of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University embody Swiss naturalist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz’s dream of creating a natural history museum in America that would rival the great halls of Europe.

In November 1859, the same month that Darwin published On the Origin of Species, Agassiz’s students helped to carry hundreds of specimens into the newly constructed building, and the museum opened to the public. The structure was built to house many thousands of specimens, as well as three whale skeletons soon to be suspended from the ceiling. In later years, the Oxford Street complex expanded to include the Botanical Museum and the Mineralogical Museum.

The MCZ’s galleries, the Botanical Museum’s famous Ware Collection of Glass Flowers, and the mineralogical and geological galleries are open to the public as part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, whose mission is to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it. Today, more than 180,000 visitors annually make it this Oxford Street museum the University’s most-visited.

Photo credit: “From the Archives of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library, HarvardUniversity.