America’s first zoo celebrates 150 years on July 1

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Nine years before the Phillies threw their very first pitch in the National League, Philadelphia already had its biggest, most enduring pastime.

On July 1, 1874, 150 years ago, the Philadelphia Zoo opened its doors to the public for the first time. Since then, more than 100 million visitors have passed through the gates of a Philadelphia landmark as important as the Liberty Bell itself.

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All summer the Philadelphia Zoo will celebrate its 150th anniversary with special events and pricing.

The Zoo opened with more than 600 animals on display including a pair of rare birds donated by then-President Ulysses S. Grant.  

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved and signed the charter for the Zoological Society of Philadelphia on March 21, 1859. Fundraising efforts were derailed for 15 years by the Civil War before “America’s First Zoo” welcomed more than 3,000 guests for its grand opening on July 1, 1874.

“Philadelphia Zoo has welcomed nearly 100 million guests since the Zoo first opened its gates 150 years ago, connecting generations of families to the wonders of wildlife,” President and CEO Jo-Elle Mogerman said. “We cannot wait to celebrate this major milestone with the community that made us. As we mark this moment, we also celebrate 50 years of continuous accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, demonstrating our commitment to excellence and the highest standards in animal care and welfare.”

Many famous guests have visited the Zoo through the years, with some actually taking up residence. In 1931, Leo, the MGM lion, retired and lived out his day at the Zoo.

A year later, in 1932, Mommy, a Galapagos tortoise, arrived at the Zoo. She remains the longest-standing resident of the Zoo, 92 years later.

And who can forget 1979, when fictional heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Balboa proposed to his future wife, Adrian, in front of the Carnivore House.

Special pricing offers and full details of all the Philadelphia Zoo’s 150th anniversary celebrations can be found at Philadelphiazoo.org.

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