History of the Collections

The earliest collections of the Natural History Museum Vienna date back more than 250 years. It was Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, Maria Theresa’s husband, who in 1750 purchased what was at the time the world’s largest and most famous collection of natural history objects from the Florentine scholar and scientist Jean de Baillou. This was the first step on the road to creating the Natural History Museum Vienna.

Baillou’s collection comprised 30,000 objects, including rare fossils, snails, mussels, and corals, as well as valuable minerals and precious stones. Unlike many other ‘chambers of wonders’ (“Wunderkammern”) assembled by members of the nobility at the time, this collection was categorized according to scientific criteria even at this early stage.
The Emperor loved his collection and was said to visit it every day. He spared no cost in his quest to expand it. For example, it is reported that he paid the enormous sum of 4000 guilders for a very rare and precious wentletrap snail (Epitonium scalare) – equivalent to a year’s salary for one of the most senior members of his court.
Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, who founded the Schönbrunn zoo in 1752 and the botanical garden in 1753, also organized the first scientific overseas expedition. In 1755 he commissioned Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin to travel to the Caribbean, the Antilles, Venezuela, and Columbia. Jacquin returned from this expedition with many live animals and plants for the zoo and the botanical garden, as well as 67 cases full of other items of interest from the natural world.