Happy birthday Dippy, Museum's Diplodocus is 106 today

12 May 2011

It's 106 years today since the unveiling of Dippy, the affectionately named 26-metre cast of a Diplodocus, in the Natural History Museum.

Dippy in the Museum's Central Hall

Dippy in the Museum's Central Hall. The Diplodocus cast was moved there in 1979.

At 1pm on May 12th 1905 the exact plaster replica of the fossilised dinosaur skeleton was revealed in a special ceremony. It was the first full skeleton of a sauropod  dinosaur to go on display in the world. Sauropods were the very large, plant-eating dinosaurs, with famously long necks and tails.

Dippy was donated to the Museum by Scottish-born millionaire Andrew Carnegie after King Edward VII saw an illustration of the original skeleton, which was at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, and requested a copy. 

Dippy cast

Dippy is made up of 292 bone casts including 70 vertebrae in the tail. There are a total of 356 bones including many separate bones in the skull and lower jaw.  

The cast is a replica of a near-complete Diplodocus carnegii skeleton uncovered in the western USA in 1898. Casts of the missing bones were made from 4 other Diplodocus specimens.

It took 18 months to make the cast. After its completion in 1904, it was shipped to England in 36 crates.

Moving around the Museum
Dippy gets a clean. It took 2 staff 2 days to clean its 292 bones.

Dippy gets a clean. It took 2 staff 2 days to clean its 292 bones.

Originally placed in the Reptile Gallery, Dippy was completely taken apart during the Second World War and placed in the Museum's basement to avoid damage during the bombing raids on London.

In 1979, Dippy was placed in the Central Hall, the perfect place to greet visitors as they enter the Museum.

Time of dinosaur discoveries

The early 19th century was an exciting time as this was when the first dinosaur fossils were being discovered in the UK and America. People were astonished to see that such amazing creatures had existed on Earth. 

Geologist Reverend William Buckland and a doctor Gideon Mantell realised these animals were extinct reptiles and were the ones who scientifically described the first dinosaurs.

Diplodocus means double-beam and refers to some of the lower tail bones, chevrons.

Diplodocus means double-beam and refers to some of the lower tail bones, called chevrons, which differ from those of other dinosaurs.

However, anatomist Richard Owen, who later became the first Director of the Natural History Museum, noticed differences between dinosaur and reptiles skeletons. For instance, dinosaurs' legs tucked directly under their body, as with mammals, whereas reptiles' legs stuck out from the sides of their bodies. 

In 1842, Owen published his paper suggesting the name Dinosauria ('terrible lizards') for this new group and this is where the word 'dinosaur' came from.

Double beam Diplodocus

Diplodocus was first scientifically described in 1878. They lived about 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic Period. 

Diplodocus means 'double-beam' and refers to the shape of some of the lower tail bones, called chevrons. Unlike the equivalent bones in other dinosaurs, they face both forward and backward rather than just forward.

From America

The Diplodocus carnegii skeleton was uncovered in the Morrison Formation in western America, where all known Diplodocus skeletons have been found. The area has a thick band of sandstone and mudstone that has revealed many other amazing dinosaur fossils.

Moving Dippy's posture
Dippy: The tale of a Museum Icon book

Dippy: The tale of a Museum Icon book

Ever since these first dinosaurs discoveries, new scientific research has continued to reveal more clues about their way of life. 

This has resulted in 2 changes to change to Dippy's posture since the 1960s - its head has been raised and its tail lifted off the ground to reflect a sauropod's wider range of movement. 

Museum book about Dippy

The Museum book Dippy: The Tale of a Museum Icon tells the fascinating story of how Dippy got to the Museum and the adventures, rivalry and science of the first dinosaur discoveries.

It is written by the Museum dinosaur expert Dr Paul Barrett, Museum archivist Polly Parry and Museum curator Sandra Chapman.

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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Read more about Dippy

Dippy book

Go on an engaging tale of discovery in Dippy, a book published by the Museum. 

Discover the famous cast, its history and importance and read about one of the longest land animals ever to walk the Earth.

Buy Dippy online

Browse all Dinosaur books