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Animal tanning and skin preservation has been practiced over the millennia for clothing, decoration, and weapons. Native Americans used tanned hides to make their lodgings. Trophies from hunts of dangerous animals were often worn to display the bravery of the hunter. Tanning methods included stringing skins up to dry, scraping them, and perhaps soaking them in water with tannins from leaves. Animal skins were preserved for many different purposes, but not specifically from interest in the natural sciences until the 18th century. Tanning methods improved during this time. Displaying the skin on models stuffed with hay or straw became popular for museums and private collections. Animals were posed realistically, and backgrounds were added to the display areas in museums to show the habitat of the animal.

By the 19th century, taxidermy was a recognized discipline for museum workers. In Paris, Maison Verreaux became the chief supplier of exhibit animals. Carl Akeley, who worked for Ward's Natural Science Establishment in New York, mastered a taxidermic technique that allowed for realistic modeling of large animals such as bears, lions, and elephants. His works are still on display in TheĀ Field Museum (Chicago) and theĀ American Museum of Natural History (New York). In recent years, several taxidermy supply companies have developed lifelike mannequins to be used as the foundations for fish, birds, and fur-bearing animals. Such new techniques in the art and science of taxidermy continue to be developed and used.