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Joseph Leidy

Dr. Joseph Leidy
Dr. Joseph Leidy

In 1885, after William Wagner’s death, the Board of Trustees appointed internationally renowned biologist Joseph Leidy to head the Institute’s scientific and educational programs. Dr. Leidy’s appointment ushered in an active and productive era in which the Institute’s mission and programs were greatly expanded. He invigorated the public lectures by retaining some of the most noted scientists and explorers of the day for the faculty. Leidy also added original scientific research to the Institute’s mission and organized its earliest field expeditions. The results of this work were published in The Transactions of the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

Leidy’s most lasting contribution to the Wagner was his reorganization of the Institute’s museum. Wagner’s original collections had been greatly enlarged by specimens collected in the field and through purchases and other acquisitions. Based on Darwinian principles of evolution, Leidy personally developed and supervised their reorganization into a systematic display in which specimens and cases were arranged so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition. At its culmination is Man. With the transformation of the Wagner collections, Leidy moved the Institute to the forefront of scientific scholarship and of museum practices. The Victorian cases and hand-labeled specimens remain in situ at present, just as they were arranged by Leidy in the 1880s. This new display opened in 1891 and little has been altered since that time.