The year 1796 marked the founding of the natural science collection as a separate "cabinet": Kaiserlich-Königliches Physikalisch-Astronomisches Kunst- und Natur-Thier-Cabinet (Imperial and Royal Physico-Astronomical Art and Nature Animal Cabinet) under the direction of abbot Simon Eberle (1756-1827). His concept for a broadly popular exhibition was criticized at the time as being a spectacle. Using paintings, models, and, in part, poorly mounted animals, he attempted to depict natural environments such as tropical forests and steppe landscapes. Although subject to criticism, this form of exhibition was the first to use dioramas.
Abbot Andreas Stütz (1747-1806) took over the collection in 1801. He displayed mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes according to systematic criteria. In 1806, after abbot Stütz unexpectedly passed away, Emperor Franz II entrusted Carl von Schreibers (1775-1852) with the directorship of the cabinet. Von Schreibers, a physician and instructor of zoology, successfully transformed the "Vereinigte Kaiserlich-Königliche Naturalien-Cabinete" (United Imperial and Royal Natural History Cabinets) into a scientific research institution. Thanks to especially capable staff members, such as Joseph Natterer, Leopold Fitzinger (1802-1884), and Johann Jacob Heckel (1790-1857), as well as to comprehensive collecting in the framework of carefully planned expeditions (e.g., the Brazilian expedition of 1817-1835), and contributions from private persons, the collection expanded enormously.
The new Kaiserlich-Königliches Naturhistorisches Hofmuseum (Imperial and Royal Court Museum of Natural History) on the Burgring Boulevard was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) on 10 August 1889, 18 years after the cornerstone was laid. This new building had become necessary to adequately house and display the ever increasing inventory; despite a series of annexes, the space in the Hofburg Palace had become too small to accommodate the collections. Today, more than 100 years later, this building still serves as the home of the entire collections. Its facade bears the inscription: "To the realm of nature and its exploration. Emperor Franz Joseph I."