The history of the Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen
By: Torben Wolff


Fig. 1. The title copper plate in Ole Worm’s book about his museum, 1655. In the background center on the top shelf is an oak root (mounted upside down) grown around the lower jaw of a horse. This rarity was donated to Worm in 1649 by King Frederik III and is the only absolutely certain zoological survivor from Ole Worm’s museum. The same applies geologically to the circular Cretaceous Paramudra fossil on the floor to the left, now in the Geological Museum, University of Copenhagen.

Few museums have had an origin as complicated as that of the Copenhagen Zoological Museum, which mostly owes its fame to its old age and the richness of particularly Arctic and marine animals brought back from a great number of expeditions.

There is no previous account in English of the history of the Museum. The most detailed review in Danish of the growth throughout three centuries has been given by Spärck (1945). Two other general accounts are by Stephensen (1921) and in my history of Danish zoology (Wolff 1979). Acquisition of, in particular, insects is found in Henriksen’s history of Danish entomology (Henriksen 1921-37) and of marine collections in my book on marine expeditions (Wolff 1967).

The purpose of this account is to present an outline of the many forerunners of today’s Zoological Museum, the origin and growth of the scientific collections and the improvement of the public exhibitions. Apart from appropriate references, a general description of the Museum’s contributions to zoological research in Denmark and its participation in university teaching were considered to be outside the scope of the present paper.


In Denmark the first attempts to study the anatomy of animals began when, following the Reformation, a Faculty of Medicine was established in 1537 at the then about 60 years old Copenhagen University. Dissection of various animals gradually became widely used by physicians for comparison, since human dissection was often difficult or impossible due to religious opposition and layman’s prejudice.

The 17th century represents a Danish Golden Age of anatomical studies of the organs and their function and of natural history collecting. In addition to his handbook, Anatomicae institutiones, Casper Bartholin the Elder (1585-1629) wrote a students’ guideline for the study of the natural history of mammals and birds.

His brother-in-law, Ole Worm (1588-1654), was a true polyhistor (Schepelern 1971). He had studied medicine, botany, etc. at foreign universities for 12 years. Visits to a variety of collections of curios had greatly inspired him to build up his own museum of minerals and soils, dried plants, seeds and fruits, stuffed animals, dried fish and crustaceans, shells and corals together with "artificiosa": archeological specimens, ethnographical artefacts and art objects. Especially the zoological section shows that its founder was aiming at acquiring tangible examples of curiosities mentioned in current publications and was particularly rich in Nordic and Arctic animals, e.g., the skull of a narwhale, a stuffed polar bear and a live great auk.

From 1630 the Museum was housed in the professor residence of the botanical garden between the University and Krystalgade, at or close to the location of the Zoological Museum 240 years later (Schepelern 1971). The collections are unusually well documented through Worm’s extensive correspondence with European colleagues, preliminary catalogues and first and foremost the magnificent book Museum Wormianum (Worm 1655, Schepelern 1971), with 425 pages in folio and profusely illustrated (Fig. 1). It is a practical, descriptive catalogue, giving evidence of Worm’s sound and down-to-earth attitude towards fables such as the true identity of the unicorn, the reproduction of the lemming, etc.

Worm’s museum had many both local and foreign visitors, including the Danish King Frederik III. The king had also donated several objects and was later inspired to build up his own collection, The Royal Danish Kunstkammer or Museum Regium, which later had a great impact on the development of the Danish museum system (Fig. 2).

Print of the Royal Library and Kunstkammer Building

Fig. 2. Print of the Royal Library and Kunstkammer Building opposite the castle and now the National Record Office. The Kunstkammer was found on the first floor from 1680 to 1821.

When Worm died in 1654 the majority of his collections was acquired by the king for his museum. They were first located in Christiansborg, the Royal Castle, and from the 1670’s in a new, still existing building opposite the castle. Only the first of several illustrated catalogues (Jacobaeus 1696) indicates a major increase in natural history specimens, apart from a large bird collection from Christiansø in the Baltic in the late 18th century. The main emphasis was gradually laid on paintings and other objects of art and of cultural history (Gundestrup 1991). The Royal Kunstkammer existed until 1821 when its contents were distributed to various still existing museums. Apart from many objects found in the present museum (a stick with shipworm attack from 1693, an elephant fetus and double-tusk, ornamented shells, etc.), the most valuable is one of two existing, recent skulls of the extinct dodo, which came to Copenhagen in 1713 together with other objects from the Ducal Kunstkammer at Gottorp Castle in Schleswig.

The University courtyard in the early 1600´sFig. 3. The University courtyard in the early 1600’s. Left the new main building, right the old one and the former Kommunitets Building. In the center the library ("Liberihuset"), later to become Domus Anatomica, housing the oldest University collection from 1657 to 1728.

The third collection with animals in Copenhagen became located in the former university library ("Liberihuset") on the first floor above Theatrum Anatomicum (Fig. 3). From 1645 the anatomical theater had been the flourishing center of the work of the famous and highly productive anatomists Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680, a son of Caspar) and Niels Steensen (Nicolaus Steno, 1638-1686) (Meisen 1932). When Worm’s collections were transferred to the Kunstkammer and thus no longer available as a study collection, Thomas Bartholin was active in creating Universitetets første Natural Kammer (first Chamber of Natural Objects) which according to Bartholin’s Cista Medica Hafniensis (1662) and a contemporary catalogue comprised many animals, partly as skeletons, partly stuffed or dried. But most of the collections soon became dilapidated and Domus Anatomica perished in the great fire in 1728. The only remains of this first university museum is a fragment of a (later restored) memorial tablet to Professor Thomas Fincke, Thomas Bartholin’s grandfather; the tablet is now built into the wall of the Department of Population Biology next to the present Zoological Museum building.


The anatomical epoch was in the 18th century replaced by a period of growing interest in developing the homeland’s natural resources and aids, and providing order in the overwhelming number of newly recognized plants and animals.

Establishment of collections of all sorts of natural objects became a fashion in upper class circles. Copenhagen University, however, strongly opposed the new ideas, partly due to general conservatism, partly because more professors meant reduced wages for each. Thus, as a countermove Count Adam G. Moltke established in 1759 a self-supporting college, Natural- og Husholdnings-Cabinettet (The Naturalia and Housekeeping Cabinet) at Charlottenborg, the residence of the Royal Academy of Art. In addition to teaching, the Cabinet’s main task was to build up collections. This was done through purchase, donation of part of Moltke’s large private collection of specimens sent from Danish tropical colonies, and, most importantly, by acquisition of Peter Forsskål’s collections from the Danish "Arabian Journey" 1761-1767. This ill-fated expedition, with Carsten Niebuhr as the only survivor and publisher of the geographical, botanical and zoological results, greatly extended the knowledge of the region (Wolff 1968, 1990, 1994). Still surviving are Forsskål’s famous "fish herbarium" (Fig. 4), numerous specimens of molluscs and corals, some insects, and two of the oldest preserved zoological types in alcohol: the bat Rhinopoma microphyllum and the pelagic amphipod Phromina sedentaria.

Forsskål´s famous Fish-Herbarium

Fig. 4. Forsskål’s famous "Fish Herbarium" with 99 split-and-dried Red Sea fish, 58 of which are types. A catalogue with photographs (also X-rays) was published later (Klausewitz & Nielsen 1965). 

In 1772 the Cabinet was transferred to the university. Here the energetic new professor Morten Thrane Brünnich (1723-1803) in 1770 had started to create a study collection which, with the rich supplement from the Cabinet, was named Universitetets Nye (New) Natural Theater and located in the Kommunitets Building (Fig. 5, today the meeting rooms of the University Senate). In few years he managed to build up the first real zoological and mineralogical collection of the University, which even impressed Linnaeus, who in a letter wrote: "If only we had more Brünnichs, then the natural history might soon be completed!" Its contents are known from his own detailed description (Brünnich 1782), and the collections were extensively used in his teaching.

The still existing Kommunitets Building in the mid-1700?s

Fig. 5. The still existing Kommunitets Building in the mid-1700’s. On first floor right the University’s New Natural Theater was located 1770-1807, with lectures in zoology and mineralogy. First floor center and left housed the Study Collection and zoology teaching 1918-60. In the background right the new University Main Building, built after the great fire in 1728 and destroyed during the English bombardment in 1807.

When Brünnich in 1789 was forced to take on a government position in Norway, natural history once again became a university stepchild. As with the Cabinet 30 years earlier, a group of private persons headed by the zoologist and veterinarian Peter Christian Abildgaard (1740-1801) (Stamm in Meisen 1932) established in 1789 the peculiar but important Natural History Society (Naturhistorie-Selskabet). Its objective was nothing less than to function as a private university. In spite of a high membership fee, the number of members was impressive; lectures with final examination were held; a scientific periodical was initiated; and a library and museum were established, first in Prinsens Palæ (part of the present National Museum building), later in a Renaissance house in Østergade. Two active society members were the wealthy amateur collectors of insects, Ove R. Sehested and Niels Tønder Lund, both with high government positions. They managed to arrange shipments of exotic insects through many sources and thus built up a collection of world-wide importance which was the main basis for the epoch-making studies by Johann Christian Fabricius (Henriksen in Meisen 1932, Wolff 1993).

However, in 1795 the University resumed teaching of zoology, and money to support the Natural History Society started to become scarce. A royal commission with Abildgaard as secretary was set up to prepare the establishment of a state museum, and grants enabled the society to acquire in 1804 Lorenz Spengler’s famous shell collection and a large mineral collection. Shortly afterwards the commission accepted to take over the society’s collection in return for continued salary to the professor. With this new state museum, Naturhistorie-Selskabet had thus had its day and was dissolved after 16 years of remarkable efforts.


Fig. 6. The Holstein Mansion in Stormgade where the Royal Natural History Museum was located 1821-68. Apart from a less ornate gate, there are only few later alterations exteriorly and interiorly.

Det Kongelige Naturhistoriske Museum remained in Østergade and Johannes H. Reinhardt (1776-1845) was appointed chief inspector. The first large acquisition was, in 1810, Sehested and Tønder Lund’s huge insect collection -- in spite of war and financial hardships bought at a very high price. Due to Reinhardt’s very active enterprise, space became a growing problem, and in 1821 the museum moved to the rented Count Holstein’s mansion in Stormgade (Fig. 6). At the same time the natural history specimens from the abolished Kunstkammer and the mineral collection and Spengler’s shell collection from the king’s Rosenborg Castle were transferred, and 700 specimens of excellently mounted birds in biological grouplets were purchased. Many animals were sent by Captain C. Holbøll from Greenland, and from Brazil came a particularly large collection of insects, birds and mammals, provided by the Danish consul-general in Rio, O. Dal Borgo. In 1841 the only -- still existing -- preparation of internal organs of the flightless great auk, which became extinct three years later, arrived from Iceland. Since the Museum also possesses an egg and skins of adults in summer and winter plumage (the latter unique), the Museum adopted in the mid-1900’s this bird as its logo.

For a long time only a mineralogist (Christian Pingel) and Reinhardt were in charge. Reinhardt was also responsible for giving lectures, at first only for museum guests, later also for university students. Since only the bird section was open to the public, the popular name was "The Bird Museum". Due to growing public criticism, the staff was in 1842, together with a previously appointed malacologist, supplemented with the ichthyologist and carcinologist Henrik Krøyer (1799-1870) and the entomologist Jørgen Christian Schiødte (1815-1884; Henriksen in Meisen 1932, Wolff 1993).

In the late 1840’s the Royal Museum received three significant contributions. Most important was the collection of bones of partly extinct mammals and birds found in caves in Brazil (Reinhardt 1888, Degerbøl 1945, Hatting 1980). These were excavated by the zoologist Peter Wilhelm Lund (Jensen in Meisen 1932), who had settled in Lagoa Santa for health reasons. They were partly described by him, and after arrival in the Museum were later studied by Herluf Winge.

Other large collections were brought back after the circumnavigation of the first Galathea Expedition 1845-47 (Wolff 1967). This was initiated by King Christian VIII, who had a keen interest in natural history, but it had also political-commercial objectives. Particularly rich collections were made on the Nicobar Islands, a Danish settlement in the Malacca Strait. However, with the king’s death soon after the return of the expedition and the subsequent Schleswig War, plans for publication of a general expedition report were cancelled.

The third large augmentation was due to Schiødte’s diligent collecting of insects in southern Europe.

During the 1850’s the Royal Museum had grown into an important scientific institution, and the public visited "the Bird Museum" in increasing numbers. But conditions in the former mansion were cramped and impractical and a fusion with the University Museum in a modern building was becoming urgent.


As mentioned above, university teaching in zoology and mineralogy was resumed in 1795 with the appointment of Gregers Wad (1755-1832), but subsequent increase of Brünnich’s Natural Theater collections seems to have been only minerals, which were Wad’s main interest. However, as a result of the English bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, which set fire to most of the University, the collections had to be packed away to await better times.

These arrived three years later with Count Joachim G. Moltke (1746-1818), the Prime Minister. He was the son of A. G. Moltke, the founder of the Naturalia Cabinet, and had inherited the bulk of his father’s private collection. As university patron he wished, supported by Wad, to encourage natural science at the University. His move was a deed of gift dated 28 January 1810, according to which he bought the Natural Theater, for a very large sum, combined it with his father’s Naturalia Cabinet and donated both collections to the University! In addition he made an annual sum available for administration, acquisitions and lectures. However, the collections had to remain packed away, and Reinhardt, who became professor in 1813, therefore used the Royal Museum for his teaching. Not until the University Main Building had been rebuilt in 1837 could the collections be moved back to the Kommunitets Building. The zoological section was now permanently separated from that of mineralogy and from now on officially named Det grevelige Moltke’ske Universitetet tilhørende Zoologiske Museum (The Count Moltke Zoological Museum belonging to the University), usually called the University Zoological Museum.

Considerable amounts were again spent on purchasing specimens from naturalists, and Reinhardt was active in providing animals, e.g., from Greenland, not only for his "own" Royal Museum but also for the University Museum, which apparently survived the 30 years long, magic sleep remarkably well.

An important addition was the purchase of The Zootomical-Physiological Museum. Around 1825 Daniel F. Eschricht (1798-1863), whale specialist and professor of physiology and anatomy, had started building up a huge library and a private zoological collection. Eventually, its most important and voluminous part consisted of what may even today definitely be one of the world’s richest collections of whale skeletons. Already in 1841, while still far from complete, his museum was sold to the University and the whales were under very crowded conditions placed in the basement under the Assembly Hall of the Main Building, where they remained on show also after the two main museums in 1868 moved to the new building next door.

In 1845 Japetus Steenstrup (1813-1897; Spärck in Meisen 1932, Spärck 1948) succeeded Reinhardt as professor and head of the museum, which the same year obtained a substantially increased income through a charter for J. G. Moltke’s university grants.

The still existing Danish Natural History Society was founded in 1833 with the main purpose of creating a museum to compensate for the strongly criticized limitation of public admission to the Royal Museum; soon afterwards the Society also began to give scientific lectures for the upper class citizens. Some collections were donated by Eschricht, and some were acquired through purchase and exchange. However, the museum attendance was low, much less than that of the lectures, and the economy was strenuous, so the collections were sold at an auction in 1847; some were bought by the two main museums, and some were scattered. Indirectly the museum had, however, lasting importance. Firstly, the acquisition of Krøyer’s collection of fishes and crustaceans led to the establishment of a special Danish section which served as a model for the other museums. Secondly, the auction income secured the establishment of the Society’s periodical, Videnskabelige Meddelelser (Scientific Communications) 1849-1988 (Spärck 1933), with Zoological Museum staff members as editors.

King Christian VIII?s shell cabinet

Fig. 7. King Christian VIII’s shell cabinet occupied a whole hall in the museum in Krystalgade. It was kept in the original vitrines from Amalienborg Castle, with a bust of the king. 

When King Christian VIII died in 1848 most of his large "particulaire" collection at Amalienborg Castle came to the University Museum (Fig. 7), especially the magnificent shell cabinet with many of J. H. Chemnitz’s types, including that of the very rare gastropod Conus gloriamaris (Spärck 1950) and many valuable books. Included were also the collections made in Greenland by Otto Fabricius, the author of Fauna Groenlandica (1780), and, via Fabricius, some remains of O. F. Müller collections (Jensen and Spärck in Meisen 1932, Wolff 1967, 1993).

Steenstrup was very active in increasing the University Museum collections. For instance, he had a special ability to persuade officials in Greenland, the Faroes and Danish colonies, and particularly captains in the mercantile marine, to send specimens, the latter forming the main basis of the Museum series Spolia Atlantica (1861-86). He was also in charge of the foundation of the museum’s extremely rich reference collection of animal remains from archaeological sites, etc.


The crowded conditions for the revived University Museum in the Kommunitets Building soon called for a new home. On Steenstrup’s iniative, a commission was appointed in 1848 to consider the relation between the two existing museums, but not until 1858 was it decided by the University that they should be combined. A second commission considered the status of the inspectors of the Royal Museum. Two of these, Krøyer and Schiødte, were, in their concept of scientific method, Steenstrup’s complete antagonists (Wolff 1993) and feared to come under his dominance and power. With supporters in the Parliament, they managed to postpone the passage of the Museum Law until 1862 when it was finally decided that the new museum should be governed by three managers of the same standing: one responsible for vertebrates (Steenstrup), one for invertebrates except arthropods (Krøyer), and one for arthropods (Schiødte). This law was in force during the following 115 years!

A sum of 186,000 rigsdalers, 1 mark and 10 skillings was approved for the new building, and in 1864 construction started in Krystalgade behind the University Main Building, with Professor Christian Hansen as architect. Moving in and fusion of the two museum collections and of Schiødte’s huge private collection of Danish insects began barely three years before the official opening by the king on 2 November 1870. This put a full stop to the long and intricate previous history of the Zoological Museum.


Krystalgade around 1900 with the new Zoological Museum

Fig. 8. Krystalgade around 1900 with the new Zoological Museum. In the background the University Library and the Round Tower; on the left the north end of the Kommunitets Building. 

The new, then ultra-modern building in Krystalgade (Fig. 8) seems to be the first one constructed to serve as a Zoological Museum from the onset. It was worldwide regarded as a remarkable innovation and served as a model for other museums, e.g., Hamburg, Leiden and Paris, although many locals considered it excessively large. The grandiose main hall with its glass roof was surrounded by galleries and exhibition rooms (Fig. 9). Fish and invertebrates were shown on the ground floor, and P. W. Lund’s fossils, the Danish earth finds of bones, and mammals, birds and reptiles were found on the first floor; on the mezzanine were insects, working rooms, library, archives, etc. All cabinets, designed by the architect, had mahagony-framed glass doors. In the basement, rooms surrounding the central hall acted as workshops (Fig. 10), storage sites for alcohol collections, etc. During World War II a special shelter was fitted up here for the type collections.

The central hall in the museum in KrystalgadeFig. 9. The central hall in the museum in Krystalgade. The drawing is from 1868, two years before the opening, and thus shows an imagined version of the exhibits. 

In the beginning there was no distinction between the public and the scientific collections. Almost everything in stock was exhibited, often several specimens of the same species, and the excess "storage collections" of imperfect specimens and second-hand duplicates were kept in drawers under the show cabinets or in the attic or basement. Labels were kept to a minimum, and the printed guide was just a systematic summary. But apparently this concentration in rows of the richness and diversity of the animal kingdom appealed to the public -- in numbers of 50-85,000 annually they flocked in during the two open hours twice a week.

fig10.jpg (30544 bytes)

Fig. 10. The gloomy basement in the Krystalgade museum contained strongly smelling rooms for decoction and taxidermy. Photograph from about 1900.

Fortunately it was a well built and remarkably dry building, mostly because Steenstrup had insisted on using modern steam central heating which operated through ornate, stove-like radiators with claw feet!

The staff of this spacious museum comprised only five scientists and four taxidermists/preparators, the former five supplemented with two more in the 1880’s and gradually increasing from 1904. Besides Schiødte, the most distinguished names were the echinoderm and fish specialist Christian Frederik Lütken (1827-1901), who succeeded Steenstrup as professor; the mammologist Herluf Winge (1857-1923); and the carcinologist Hans Jacob Hansen (1855-1936) (Stephensen 1937, Wolff 1993). The main task was integration and registration of former and new collections, divided into sections for Denmark, the Faroes-Iceland-Greenland, and the rest of the world. Eschricht’s anatomical vertebrate preparations were excluded, being in storage until transfer to the new Institute of Comparative Anatomy in the 1940’s.

The first important new addition was the donation of Bernt W. Westerman’s magnificent insect collection, the finest private one of the day; it was procured through gifts and exchange with all important collectors of the time. A significant supplement to the P. W. Lund fossils was Valdemar Lausen’s gift of almost complete skeletons of extinct giant sloths and glyptodons, etc. from Argentina; they were exhibited in a huge showcase in the central hall.

From 1884 migratory birds killed at the Danish lighthouses and lightships were sent to the Museum; a 1954 survey mentions 56,000 birds and parts of another 41,000!

The founding in 1868 of the Entomological Society meant a further development of the already close cooperation between professional and amateur entomologists which had been promoted by Schiødte already decades before; numerous fine insect collections were willed to the Museum. Valuable were also the terrestrial isopods (woodlice) which came from the brush manufacturer Gustav Budde-Lund, a world capacity in this group (Wolff 1993).

Methodical collecting in Danish waters began in the 1860’s and greatly increased with the introduction of fishery research in the 1880’s. Arctic marine animals were obtained in the Kara Sea in 1882-83 by the mostly icebound vessel Dijmphna (Wolff 1967) and in much greater numbers by the first Danish deep-sea expedition on the cruiser Ingolf to the North Atlantic in 1895 and 1896 (Wolff 1967, 1997), with a report of 5500 quarto pages and 330 plates, edited by the Museum. Other major expeditions, concentrating on the Greenland shelf, were the Carlsberg Foundation Expedition 1898-1900 and the Danmark Expedition 1906-1908 to East and Northeast Greenland, respectively (Wolff 1967).

Enormous marine collections were provided by the famous one-man expeditions of the Museum’s echinoderm specialist Theodor Mortensen (1868-1952). They included inter alia the Pacific 1914-16, the Kei Islands 1921-22 and Java-South Africa 1929-30 (Wolff 1967). In addition to his own A Monograph of Echinoidea in 16 volumes, they resulted in about 80 Collected Papers by others.


By the early 1920’s the scientific staff had grown to 13. In the exhibitions, labelling was gradually improved and the multitude of displayed animals reduced. A welcome addition was the magnificent fan corals, sea lilies, etc., brought by Th. Mortensen from his tropical expeditions. In the central hall biological groups were mounted, the first in 1930 being musk oxen with an Arctic wolf, and the largest being African savanna animals; these were part of huge collections of mammals, birds and insects from the wealthy pharmacist and big game hunter Dr. Bøje Benzon’s three expeditions to East Africa in the 1930’s and late 1940’s, the latter with museum staff participation. Other major land expeditions collected in the Niger area in the 1920’s and in Afghanistan around 1950.

Otherwise the main collecting outside Denmark was marine. The Godthaab Expedition surveyed West Greenland waters in 1928, the Scoresbysund Committee’s 2nd Expedition in 1932 investigated fjords in SE Greenland, and the great Three Years’ Expedition 1931-34 explored 800 km of inhospitable East Greenland coast from Scoresbysund to Danmarkshavn, involving ships, airplanes and a total of ca. 200 participants (in the summer of 1933 alone 109) and 16 men wintering each year (Wolff 1967).

By far the largest collections in the world of pelagic oceanic organisms were procured by the Carlsberg Foundation’s Dana Expeditions. With the main purpose of locating the breeding area of the European eel, they were first concentrated in the Mediterranean (the Thor Expedition 1908-10) and the West Atlantic 1920-22 (Wolff 1967). This was followed in 1928-30 by meticulous collecting by the Dana down to about 3000 m for two years round the world (Schmidt 1932), resulting in 5500 hauls which were later sorted into more than half a million separate samples. Much of this enormous material was published in almost 100 monographs in the Dana Report, and much is still waiting for future treatment (Wolff in press a).

Even greater in scope was the Galathea Expedition 1950-52, with government and private funding and administered by the Zoological Museum. It concentrated on the deep-sea bottom fauna down to the previously unexplored greatest depths of the ocean trenches. The ship carried a naval crew of about 90, and a total of 31 foreign scientists, 20 Danish scientists and 8 students participated for shorter or longer periods during the two years’ circumnavigation (Bruun et al. 1956, Wolff 1967).

Less impressive, but also rich in collections were the investigation of the Iranian Gulf 1937-38 in view of working up modern fishing and the Atlantide Expedition 1945-46 along the coast of West Africa on a Danish millionaire’s large yacht (Wolff 1967).

The richness of marine invertebrates is exemplified by the collection of Crustacea numbering at least 8,200 identified species or 18% of all known species, and the type collection containing 2,218 types or 4.9% of all species (Wolff in press b).

With such vast material pouring in from expeditions and travels and through purchase, exchange and gifts, space in the originally large building became hopelessly scarce, and much had to be stored in neighbouring basements and even in the loft of Trinitatis Church with access through the Round Tower, an uneconomic and time-wasting situation. More and more exhibition rooms were changed to working rooms, and the ornithologists were even sent in exile to a building several hundred metres away!

Plan of the ground floor of the present Zoological Museum

Fig. 11. Plan of the ground floor of the present Zoological Museum: 1. Admission platform. -- 2. Entrance hall with changing exhibits. -- 3. Lifts and staircase to the exhibitions. -- 4. Working rooms for scientific and technical staff. -- 5. Corridors with working places for students or temporary tasks. -- 6. Department libraries, photo rooms, lavatories, etc. -- 7. Locks to general storerooms. -- 8. Collections. -- 9. Supply Department and storerooms (in upper storeys working rooms, canteen, meeting room, and general library). -- 10. Workshops, studio and preparator rooms. -- 11. Meeting hall, now transformed to preparator rooms and reception and telephone room. -- 12. Department of Population Biology. -- 13. Institute for Cell Biology and Anatomy.

Together with the architect Vilhelm Lauritzen, Ragnar Spärck had already in 1934 worked out a scheme for a new building at the planned campus, Universitetsparken on Fælleden (the Common). Since 1937 when this influential man became professor and head of the museum board, he worked hard to promote the plans. They were delayed by the war, but in the mid-1950’s the University rated a new building for zoology as a top priority, and a government grant was approved by vote in 1960. It was decided to follow Spärck’s original ideas of a complete separation between the scientific and public sections and placing the collections in the center surrounded by working rooms, general and department libraries, storerooms, etc. (Fig. 11). However, the prolonged and strenuous detailed projecting did not appeal to Spärck, who cleverly left this to Helge Volsøe, Henning Lemche and the architect Preben Hansen.

The building from 1963 in Universitetsparken

Fig. 12. The building from 1963 in Universitetsparken (foreground). The exhibitions are in the upper 2½ storeys.

Studiesamlingen (the Study Collection, the students’ laboratories, etc.) had remained in the Kommunitets Building and moved in 1961 to a wing next to the new museum. During the summer of 1963 the scattered museum collections were transferred and brought together in the big square concrete house in Universitetsparken (Fig. 12). This work was completed in August, but an official opening was postponed until the exhibitions were ready. After a gentle reconditioning, the old Krystalgade building was taken over by the University administration.

With the large, modern building on Universitetsparken, endeavours during 2-3 centuries to build up a national zoological museum had - at least for the time being - come to an end. 


The price of the new building was 17 mill. DKK in 1963. It covers, with its 6½ storeys and a two-storey workshop building, altogether 20,670 m², of which 6,500 m² are storage-room area and 4,850 m² exhibition area (Volsøe 1964). The past period has called for few changes in this well functioning building: a lecture hall next to the entrance hall has been transformed into workshop offices; most of the basement parking area is now reserved for the whale collection; and a number of large working rooms have been divided up into smaller ones.

Shortly before moving to Universitetsparken, Helge Volsøe (1908-68) was appointed director, a new position. The scientific staff had then grown to 25, topped at 27 (in the 1970’s) and is now down to 22; the technical/administrative staff was about 40, grew to 64 and is 42 today.

Mainly on the basis of its own material, the Museum has been strongly involved in the publication of Zoology of the Faroes (1928-71, 52 parts), Zoology of East Greenland (1937-58, 19 parts) and Zoology of Iceland (from 1937, more than 80 parts). Spolia Zoologica Musei Hauniensis with 29 monographs was published 1941-69 and an illustrated yearbook, Dyr i (Animals in) Natur og Museum, in the 1940’s. The former has from 1970 been replaced by Steenstrupia, the latter from 1984 by a popular magazine with the same title as the yearbook and appearing twice a year. Moreover, the Museum has published reports of expeditions: Iranian Gulf, Atlantide, Galathea, and The Natural History of Rennell Island, British Solomon Islands. Most of the Galathea Report papers written by Danish contributors are the work of the Museum’s group of deep-sea biologists, several of whom were members of the expedition and have later participated as guests on foreign cruises. The Atlantide and the Galathea Reports are still being issued.

Later major additions to the collections have primarily been procured by the Noona Dan Expedition 1961-62, collecting mainly birds and insects in the Philippine, Bismarck and Solomon Islands and so far resulting in 150 Noona Dan Papers and many more in part founded on Noona Dan material. In 1987-90 the BIOFAR Program investigated the benthic lower shelf and upper slope fauna around the Faroes, followed by the similar, still ongoing BIOICE Program around Iceland. Scientists and students from the Zoological Museum have played an important role in working up these rich collections. Marine, global meiofauna sampling has in recent years yielded the world’s largest collections of tardigrades and loriciferans. In the 1990’s huge samples of insects have been obtained in East Africa, mainly through canopy-fogging.

After 7 years of preparation, "The Animal World of Denmark", the first part of the new exhibitions on the 5th floor, was inaugurated by King Frederik IX on 2 November 1970, one hundred years to the day after the opening of the Krystalgade museum. The previous arrangement according to systematic principles was maintained only in an "appendix" section, focusing on vertebrates, but was otherwise replaced by ecological viewpoints: examples of the fauna in typical Danish biotopes (forest, field, moor, freshwater, coast and town), animal dependence on habitat, and illustration of various biological phenomena (Jørgensen 1973).

The importance of these modern exhibitions to the public awareness of the natural environment was greatly increased by the immediate establishment of a School Service which was soon copied by other museums and zoos in Denmark and abroad. Its principal goal is to make the children observe and think, aided by written exhibit assignments, to be answered individually or in small groups.

The first year’s number of more than 400,000 visitors later decreased to around 140,000 annually. The next part, "From Pole to Pole" was opened in 1974 on the 6th floor, and the kidney-shaped Ocean Hall was completed later. Mainly in dioramas it features animal communities under changing climatic conditions. This exhibition was followed in 1983 by the opening, again with Royal attendance, of the impressive "Animal Life of the Ocean" with skeletons of a Greenland and a sperm whale and life-sized models of a giant squid, fishes and invertebrates.

The 25th anniversary of the exhibitions was marked with a book (Meyer et al. 1995) which recorded the year-to-year activities, the major special exhibits in the area reserved for these, the 80 mini-exhibits of mainly topical events, animals in art, etc. in the entrance hall or elsewhere, the marionet theater performances, and later additions (e.g., walrosses and Sumatra rhino) or renovation (savannas) in the "From Pole to Pole" exhibition.


By virtue of its collections and type material the Copenhagen Zoological Museum ranks as one of the most important in the world. This gives a special responsibility to further its principal research fields: systematics, zoogeography and phylogeny. In addition to a continuation, with modern methods, of the long tradition in these spheres (Kristensen 1994), the staff is at present engaged in transferring the vast amount of collection and expedition data to electronic databases.

The remaining major task in the Exhibition Department is the creation of the last of the permanent exhibits, "A World of Animals", in the still available 600 m² area above "From Pole to Pole", intending to give the visitor an impression of the enormous diversity of the animal kingdom.

With these goals in mind the Zoological Museum is ready to enter a new millenium.