Origin of Species book anniversary

24 November 2009

Today is the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species publication.

Title Page of 'On The Origin of Species by means of natural selection' by Charles Darwin, 1859

Title Page of 'On The Origin of Species by means of natural selection' by Charles Darwin, 1859

This ground-breaking work introduced the revolutionary idea of evolution by natural selection. It contains the details of the theory Darwin developed over many years of study.

On the Origin of Species changed the way scientists think about the natural world. Although it provoked outrage from some members of the Church of England at the time, it quickly became a bestseller in the UK and worldwide.

Biology's most important concept

Scientists had been searching for an explanation of how and why there was such a huge variety of life on Earth.

Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace, came up with the same theory to explain this diversity independently. Their idea was that species evolve by a process called natural selection.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Natural selection is where the fittest individuals of a species are more likely to survive and reproduce and pass their advantageous characteristics to their offspring.

In time, characteristics that allow organisms to survive and reproduce become more common.

Museum collections

A first edition of On the Origin of Species is looked after by the Natural History Museum, as well as the world's largest collection of works by and about Charles Darwin, known as the Kohler Darwin Collection. It includes almost everything Darwin published from 1829 onwards.

Visitors to the Museum today, who are quick enough to book, can visit the Rare Books Room and view some rare Charles Darwin material including letters and manuscripts.

You can also browse a virtual copy of On the Origin of Species as some of its pages have been electronically scanned and can be viewed online.


A permanent part of the Natural History Museum's collection is TREE, a 17-metre-long wafer thin section of a 200-year old oak tree, inlaid in the ceiling in a gallery off the Central Hall. The artwork is inspired by Darwin’s iconic tree of life diagram, from one of his notebooks, which shows his ideas on evolution.

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