The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.
This description is from David Temple, the museum’s curator of paleontology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the most fascinating fossils in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org/ – throughout the year.
One of the oldest displays in the Houston Museum of Natural Science is the full scale recreation of the dinosaur Ankylosaurus. This recreation of a late cretaceous herbivore was created by the Sinclair Oil Company for the exhibit “Sinclair Dinoland” which opened at the 1964-1965 Worlds Fair in New York.
Dr. Barnum Brown acted as a consultant to world renowned zoological sculptor Louis Paul Jonas to create a paleontological menagerie of dinosaurs that would showcase the Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic. This would be the end of Dr. Barnum Brown’s long paleontological career and association with Sinclair oil as he died shortly before the fair opened in 1964.
The dinosaurs were created at Louis Paul Jonas Studios and then transported to the fair grounds past New York City on a flat barge in a brilliant and surreal publicity stunt. In addition to carrying the Sinclair banner at national stops by train and flatbed trucks, the dinosaur sculptures were used by Sinclair in other advertising campaigns, such as the print ad you see here, featuring the Houston Ankylosaur advertising the dinosaurs and the Dinoland exhibit.
After the closing of the fair, the models toured the country on specially constructed flatbed trailers. Visiting Houston in 1966 and 1968, the nationwide tours attracted millions of visitors. One of the Houston visits was to Gulfgate Mall- the first shopping mall in the city. The second was to HMNS. The Museum, newly expanded in 1969, had empty space and the popularity of these visits was not lost on Museum staff.
The Jonas Dinosaur menagerie was conceived as being an outdoor exhibit, and after the fair and all the national tours, all but two of the sculptures in the collection ended up as open air exhibits. The Houston Ankylosaurus remained indoors and, though modified, it is perhaps the best preserved of the Sinclair Dinoland models.
Learn more about the ankylosaur: check out David’s post “Ankylosaur at HMNS: A 40-year mystery solved” Or, wander among prehistoric beasts in the Paleontology Hall, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.