Photo above: President U.S. Grant. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Valley of the Yellowstone, 1871, by William Henry Jackson, Hayden Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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1874 - Detail
July 1, 1874 - The first United States zoo opens in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.
It had been postponed by war, the Civil War. Originally proposed in 1859, that subsequent conflict would push the opening of America's first zoo back fifteen years. But when it opened, Philadelphia, the city, went on a roll. Two years post zoo, the Centennial International Exposition would open just down the street, buoying zoo attendance. Not that it needed much help. From the start, the zoo was a popular attraction. Over three thousand visitors came on opening day. Over two hundred and twenty-eight thousand came during the first year. Oh, but the world's fair did help. It attracted President Ulysses S. Grant to come to the zoo on April 23, 1876, and rose attendance by 36% over the previous year. Totao zoo attendance in 1876 was 680,000. It would take until 1951 to beat that record. And the Philadelphia Zoo remains popular, although smaller than some of the zoological parks today, drawing over one million two hundred thousand visitors per year.
The Pennsylvania Zoological Society was incorporated on March 21, 1859, the oldest of its kind. Within the eventual park, history abounded. A home known as Solitude built by John Penn in 1785, grandson of William, was inside. Architect of the Centennial and engineer of Fairmount Park, Hermann Joseph Schwarzmann, designed the rustic architecture and landscape features. There's animal houses and buildings in the park built by some of Philadelphia's best known architects over the last one hundred and fifty years; Frank Furness, George Hewitt, Paul Cret, and Robert Venturi. During the first year, there were nearly one thousand animals at the zoo, with some brought over from overseas by the Smithsonian Institution and housed in Philadelphia prior to the opening of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. In 1874, you could expect a Victorian atmosphere on its thirty-three acre grounds, goat cart rides, and a Carriage House.
How much did it cost to enter when it opened? Twenty-five cents for each adult, 10 cents for children, $20 for a year membership, $50 for a lifetime. That price lasted for fifty years. How much does it cost to enter today? More than that. Try $23 for adults, $19 children (2-11), plus $16 for parking. That's March to October pricing, but it is open year round. Today the zoo encompasses forty-two acres.
Philadelphia Zoo Interesting Facts Since Opening Day
1840s - First proponent of zoo was Alfred Langdon Elwyn, President of the SPCA. His proposal did not go forward.
1874 - Brigham Young donated two bears for zoo opening; wife of General William T. Sherman donated Atlanta, the cow that marched to the sea with the General during the Civil War.
1928 - First breeding of a captive chipanzee.
1979 - Romantic scenes filmed in the zoo for Rocky II.
1999 - New primate exhibit, PECO Primate Reserve, opened.
2011 - Treetop Trail opens first of a network of mesh trails, allowing more movement of the animals around the zoo.
History of Other United States Zoos
Cinncinati Zoo, Ohio - Opened in 1875 on 65 acres. Regarded as one of the best zoos in the United States today. Attendance over 1.2 million.
National Zoo, Washington, D.C. - Established 1889 and free to visit. Two locations today. Main campus in Rock Creek Park, 163 acres. Second campus in Front Royal, Virginia, 3,200 acres. Part of the Smithsonian Institution. Over 2 million attendance per year.
Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York - Opened 1899. Largest urban zoo in United States with 2.15 million attendance and 265 acres. Over 4,000 animals.
Another Great Zoo
The Columbus Zoo, though not as old as the above, is today, with the San Diego Zoo, regarded as two of the best zoos in the nation. The original Columbus Zoo was founded in 1905, but failed after only five months. Twenty-two years later, the current zoo opened as the Columbus Zoological Gardens. It has subsequently been owned and or funded by the municipality, but has since been run by the Columbus Zoological Society with no financial affiliation with the city of Columbus since 1986. It is a non-profit zoo with five hundred eighty-two acres and seven thousand animals. It currently also has an aquarium and golf course. Attendance runs around 2.3 million per year.
Photo above: The bear exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo in 1920 on a postcard, 1920, Library Company of Philadelphia. Courtesy Pinterest. Photo below: Lithograph of Bear Pits, 1875, T.P. Chandler, from T. Westcott, Official Guide to Philadelphia, 1875. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: Library of Congress; Historybyzim.com; Philadelphia Zoo; 11 Things You Might Not Know About The Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia Magazine, December 22, 2015; Luufy.com, the Oldest Zoos of United States; Wikipedia Commons.