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Philadelphia Zoo Records: Collection Overview

Collection ID

SCRC 234

Related Subject(s)

Collecting Area(s)


Collection Summary

Philadelphia Zoo Records


Collection ID
SCRC 234

Zoological Society of Philadelphia

129.25 linear feet (161 boxes, 150 film reels, 30 map folders), 200GB

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

Materials in English.  

Detailed Collection Information

Historical Note
The Philadelphia Zoo was chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1859 as the Zoological Society of Philadelphia. The Zoo celebrated the public opening of the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens in 1874. Since then, the Zoo has been a popular public attraction. It has collected, cared for, bred, studied, and exhibited a wide variety of animals from around the world.

Committed to increasing standards of living for animals in captivity, the Zoo and its Penrose Research Laboratory led the way in veterinary pathology, breeding, and nutrition. It advanced understanding and prevention of diseases among animals in captivity and did pioneering work in nutrition, thereby increasing both the quality of life and life expectancy among animals.

The Zoo has worked to improve animal housing and exhibitions as well. In the 1930s, labor provided through federal work relief programs began a decades-long effort to update and transform the buildings and grounds. Barred cages and other housing common in the nineteenth century were replaced with new buildings and habitats—free of iron bars—often resembling the animals’ natural environments. More recently, the Zoo enhanced both the animal and visitor experience with amenities like “Zoo360,” a system of enclosed trails that allow the animals to wander the Zoo grounds safely while being observed by visitors.

Description of Collection
The Philadelphia Zoo Records include photographs, audiovisual materials, annual reports, publications, financial records, architectural drawings, and other records documenting the work of the Zoo, its animals, the Penrose Research Laboratory, its buildings and grounds, and programming from 1859 to 2015. The bulk of the collection is comprised of photographic materials, audiovisual materials, and publications. This collection includes preserved versions of the organization’s website, available through Archive-It.

Organization and Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 9 series as follows:

Series 1: Photographic materials, 1876-2006
Series 2: Publications, 1875-2016
          Subseries 2.1: Books and periodicals, 1875-2016
          Subseries 2.2: Correspondence and other records, 1899-1967
          Subseries 2.3: Posters, 1859-1986
Series 3: Audiovisual materials, 1968-2005
Series 4: General records, 1873-2014
Series 5: Financial records, 1874-2005
Series 6: Buildings and grounds, 1939-2005
Series 7: Buttons, patches, and other objects, 1874, 1974-circa 2010
Series 8: Digital materials, 2005-2015
Series 9: Website versions in Archive-It, 2000-2017

Series 1, Photographic Materials, contains photographic prints, lantern slides, film slides, and negatives dating back to the 1870s. Images depict the Zoo’s animals, buildings and grounds, exhibits, visitors, as well as the work of Zoo keepers and the Penrose Research Laboratory. The series includes several groups of materials, based on format and/or original filing scheme. Some groups are arranged by subject; others are arranged by date; and some are not arranged. There is card index (boxes 35 and 36) that can be used to help navigate the contact sheets (boxes 138 to 148) and film slides (boxes 27 to 34) by subject. Please refer to the inventory for more information.

Series 2, Publications, houses Zoo publications, including several animal and Zoo themed periodicals, newsletters, and guidebooks. There is a small body of correspondence and other records relating to the production of publications and to subscriptions. Lastly, there is a small collection of Zoo posters. The series is divided into three subseries: Books and periodicals, Correspondence and other records, and Posters.

Series 3, Audiovisual materials, contains a variety of film and video footage of the Zoo, including its animals and their care, medical procedures, events, public service announcements, and press coverage. The videos have not been viewed by the Special Collections Research Center. Descriptive information was provided by the Zoo and/or taken directly from existing labels. The recordings are intellectually arranged in alphabetical order by subject and/or title.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist, must pay for a use copy. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Series 4, General records, includes textual documentation of the Zoo and its work, generally, including annual reports, Penrose Laboratory reports, animal inventories, board meeting minutes, general correspondence, contracts and agreements for construction projects and services, materials about educational offerings for schools and other groups, and other records. The records are arranged alphabetically by type and/or topic.

Series 5, Financial records, documents Zoo finances, especially as documented in ledgers and other records of admissions, stocks, loans, and special funds. Of note is correspondence regarding work relief funds received by the Zoo in the 1930s.

Series 6, Buildings and Grounds, is composed primarily of architectural drawings for the Zoo’s buildings, grounds, and exhibitions. There are related records to some of these drawings in series 4 and 5.

Series 7, Buttons, patches and other objects, contains assorted objects, including buttons and patches, commemorative coins, stickers, bookplates, and temporary tattoos, examples of Zoo keepers’ hats, and a brick from the original Monkey House.

Series 8, Digital materials, contains both born digital materials and digital surrogates of older materials, including photographs, publications, correspondence, press releases, architectural renderings, and other records. While the digital files date from 2005 to 2015, the surrogates are of a variety of records dating back to 1875. This series has not yet been processed. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Series 9 contains preserved versions of the Philadelphia Zoo’s website. To access these sites, see the Temple University Special Collections Research Center Urban Archives Archive-It web page: https://archive-it.org/collections/4487.

Patron Information

Catalog Record
A record for this collection is available in Temple University’s online library catalog: https://librarysearch.temple.edu/catalog/991036839803903811

Research Access
Collection is open for research. Collection has not been reviewed for restricted material; restrictions may apply at time of access.

Collections Stored Off-Site
This collection may be housed off-site at the Library Depository, and require up to two business days to retrieve. Please review the finding aid and be prepared to identify specific materials to be retrieved. Contact the Special Collections Research Center in advance of your visit, so that materials may be relocated to the reading room for research.

Technical Access
Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy. Certain digital files may also be inaccessible. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Additions to this collection are expected. The website is captured using Archive-It periodically, and the latest additions may not yet be included in this finding aid. For information on material–physical and digital, including captured websites–that may have been added since the last finding aid update, please contact the Special Collections Research Center.

Publication and Copyright Information
The Philadelphia Zoo Records are the physical and intellectual property of the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries. There may be third-party intellectual property holders in the collection; researchers are responsible for determining the identity of those rights holders and obtaining their permission for publication and for other uses

Preferred Citation
[Description and date of item], [Box number], Philadelphia Zoo Records, SCRC 234, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information
Donated by the Zoological Society of Philadelphia in July and September, 2015.  

Processing Information
Collection has been intellectually arranged at the series level; boxes and the contents therein within each series are in original order. Only original boxes and folders in poor condition have been replaced; many papers are not in folders. Collection is listed at box level. Most of the descriptive information provided by the Philadelphia Zoo.

Finding aid prepared in August 2017 by Courtney Smerz, Collection Management Archivist.

Index Terms

The following headings have been used to index the description of this collection in Temple University’s electronic catalog:

Corporate Names:
Zoological Society of Philadelphia

Zoo animals

Philadelphia (Pa.)

Material Types:
Architectural drawings.
Betacam (TM).
Born digital.
Financial records.
Glass negatives.
Hard drives.
Ledgers (account books).
Super 16mm.
Super-VHS (TM).
Video recordings.

Finding aid links

          Subseries 2.1: Books and periodicals, 1875-2016
          Subseries 2.2: Correspondence and other records, 1899-1967
          Subseries 2.3: Posters, 1859-1986