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Museum of Life and Science celebrates its 75th anniversary in Durham

One of the earliest photos of the Museum

Anniversary LogoFor Immediate Release – June 15, 2021 | 11 am

Media Contact:
Matt Pusateri, Senior Director of Marketing
(919) 220-5429 x390

Photos: Gallery

DURHAM, NC – The Museum of Life and Science begins a year-long celebration of its 75th anniversary in Durham this week. Since opening as a trail-side nature center known as “The Children’s Museum” on June 15, 1946, it has evolved into one of the top museums and science centers in North Carolina.

“For 75 years, the Museum has been a part of this community, a place to discover nature, science, and new ways of thinking about our world,” said Carrie Heinonen, Museum President and CEO. “We’re proud to have been a cherished destination for generations of families, school groups, and visitors from around the world. And we can’t wait to bring more thoughtful, relevant, and engaging experiences to the community in the decades to come.”

As it kicks off its anniversary year, the Museum will distribute 75 “science fun packs” this week to Durham families to encourage children to explore the sights and sounds of nature outdoors. As it has for nearly eight decades, the Museum partners with Durham Public Schools and other community organizations in the city and across the Triangle.

“As the Triangle has grown and evolved over the last 75 years, so has the Museum,” Heinonen said. “We’ve been an integral part of this city and state for decades, and we look forward to finding new ways to share our commitment to learning and science education with families.”

Throughout its 75th anniversary year, the Museum will offer special programs and contests for supporters and visitors to the Museum. A special all-day celebration at the Museum is in the works for after it can once again accommodate full capacity visitation.

“We can’t wait to celebrate our anniversary with visitors from around the Triangle,” Heinonen said. “We are looking forward to throwing a party worthy of the occasion, welcoming back and thanking the countless visitors, members, donors, and civil servants who have been part of the Museum community for decades.”

Over the past 75 years, the Museum has welcomed more than five million visitors. Hundreds of thousands of students have visited the Museum of Life and Science on field trips. Thousands of wedding, prom, birthday, and reunion memories have been created on the 84-acre campus. The Museum has been a national leader in its commitment to physically assessable exhibits and sensory-friendly programs. As an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoo committed to wildlife conservation, the Museum is home to rescued black bears, lemurs, endangered red wolves, and more than 60 species of live animals. It is a member of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan.

Since opening its doors in 1946, the Museum constantly evolved and expanded. It had two small locations in Durham before 1961, when the Museum secured a long-term lease from the city for a stretch of woodland on Murray Avenue, where the current Museum was built and has expanded ever since. In the early 1970s, the Museum changed its name to the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science. Among other attractions, Museum guests in the 70s enjoyed the Museum’s Prehistory Trail, Reptile House, Farmyard, Aerospace Center, and other live animal exhibits. On the grounds, visitors would find a tank, a jet airplane, and a double-decker bus that picked up local kids and brought them to the Museum. In the 80s and 90s, the Museum expanded north of Murray Avenue and established the current main building and outdoor science park that are the heart of today’s experience. The Museum continued to grow as it entered the 21st century, opening many of its most popular exhibits, including the Magic Wings Butterfly House, Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, Dinosaur Trail, Into the Mist, Hideaway Woods, and Earth Moves. (More on the Museum’s history)

The Museum is working on significant changes in the near future, including a reimagined indoor early childhood exhibit in 2022, an updated Aerospace exhibit, expanded outdoor exhibits, and new programs and experiences that will focus on today’s critical scientific, conservation, and environmental challenges.

“The importance of scientific literacy has never been more visible than during this past year of the pandemic,” Heinonen said. “The Museum has been, and will continue to be, a place that promotes scientific inquiry, tinkering, conservation, civil discourse, and, of course, play.”