The museum was formally founded on 10 June 1793, during the French Revolution. Its origins lie, however, in the Jardin royal des plantes médicinales (Royal Medicinal Plant Garden) created by King Louis XIII in 1635, which was directed and run by the royal physicians. The royal proclamation of the boy-king Louis XV on 31 March 1718, however, removed the medical function, enabling the garden—which became known simply as the Jardin du Roi (King's Garden)—to focus on natural history.
For much of the 18th century (1739–1788), the garden was under the direction of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, one of the leading naturalists of the Enlightenment, bringing international fame and prestige to the establishment. Incorporated as the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in 1793, opening in 1794 with, as one of its foundation professors, eminent evolutionary pioneer Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. The museum's aims were to instruct the public, put together collections and conduct scientific research. It continued to flourish during the 19th century, and, particularly under the direction of chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, became a rival to the University of Paris in scientific research. For example, during the period that Henri Becquerel held the chair for Applied Physics at the Muséum (1892-1908) he discovered the radiation properties of uranium. (Four generations of Becquerels held this chairmanship, from 1838 to 1948.)
A decree of 12 December 1891 ended this phase, returning the museum to an emphasis on natural history. After receiving financial autonomy in 1907, it began a new phase of growth, opening facilities throughout France during the interwar years. In recent decades, it has directed its research and education efforts at the effects of human exploitation on the environment. In French public administration, the Muséum is classed as a grand établissement of higher education.
The museum has as its mission both research (fundamental and applied) and public diffusion of knowledge. It is organized into seven research and three diffusion departments.
The research departments are:
The diffusion departments are:
The museum includes sites throughout France, including the original location at the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement of Paris (métro Place Monge). The galleries there include the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, the Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, and the famous Grand Gallery of Evolution (Grande Galerie de l'évolution). The museum's Menagerie is also located here.
The herbarium of the museum, referred to by code P, includes a large number of important collections amongst its 8 000 000 plant specimens. The historical collections incorporated into herbarium, designated with its P prefix, include Lamarck's (P-LA) Desfontaines (P-Desf.) and Tournefort and Plumier (P-TRF). The designation at CITES is FR 75A. It publishes Adansonia, a botanical periodical, and journals on the flora of New Caledonia, Madagascar and Comores, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, Cameroon, and Gabon.
Two zoos, the Parc zoologique de Paris (also known as the Zoo de Vincennes), at the Bois de Vincennes in the XIIe arrondissement, and the Parc zoologique de Clères, at a mediæval manor in Clères (Seine-Maritime), are also part of the museum, as is the Arboretum de Chèvreloup in Rocquencourt.
The transformation of the Jardin from the medicinal garden of the King to a national public museum of natural history required the creation of twelve Chaired positions. Over the ensuing years the number of Chairs and their subject areas evolved, some being subdivided into two positions and others removed. The list of Chairs of the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle includes major figures in the history of the Natural sciences. Early chaired positions were held by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, René Desfontaines and Georges Cuvier, and later occupied by Paul Rivet, Léon Vaillant and others.
The Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy and other parts of Jardin des Plantes was a source of inspiration for French graphic novelist Jacques Tardi. The gallery appears on the first page and several subsequent pages of Adèle et la bête (Adèle and the Beast; 1976), the first album in the series of Les Aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec. The story opens with a 136 million year old pterodactyl egg hatching, and a live pterodactyl escaping through the gallery glass roof, wreaking havoc and killing people in Paris. (The Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy returned the favor by placing a life size cardboard cutout of Adèle and the hatching pterodactyl in a glass cabinet outside the main entrance on the top floor balcony.)
Directors elected for one year:
Directors elected for two years:
Directors elected for five years:
Presidents elected for five years:
Redirecting to Muséum national d'histoire naturelle