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Exhibit Designers


The very first museum prototypes housed books and documents. Museums evolved from these ancient libraries to storage areas for private collections. Eventually, ambitious private collectors began to organize the objects in their collections, first by type (for instance, placing all baskets together), and then by the objects' uniqueness. Private collections became notable if they contained objects that no other collection contained. For as long as unique objects have been cherished, the display of those objects has been a necessary practice for satisfying natural human curiosity.

The American painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale founded the first American natural history museum intended for public use in 1786. As Peale performed all the duties necessary to run his home-based museum, he may also be credited with developing the first exhibit designs in the United States. He exhibited his specimens in natural settings (comparable to modern-day dioramas) in order to present visitors with contextual information about his collections. As curious visitors began to explore his museum, he realized the need to protect his specimens from environmental damage. He placed the more valuable items in cabinets to protect them from careless hands and reduce the effects of everyday wear and tear.

Peale's home museum grew to become the Philadelphia Museum and with its development came techniques and theories about exhibiting art and cultural artifacts that remain useful today.

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