May 4, 2012 / 2:00 AM / 7 years ago

Billionaire Koch gives $35 million to dinosaur museum

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Reuters) - American industrialist David Koch, a major supporter of conservative causes, said on Thursday his lifelong fascination with dinosaurs drove his $35 million donation to renovate the National Museum of Natural History’s dinosaur hall.

A fifteen-percent larger skull, created through computer scanning and prototyping, graces the new mount of the Smithsonian Institution's Triceratops exhibit in this undated photograph. With a bigger skull, better posture and a computer-engineered look, a 65-million-year-old Triceratops began its latest incarnation on May 24, 2001 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. CREDIT REUTERS/Smithsonian/ D.E. Hurlbert)

The gift was the largest single donation in the Washington-based museum and research institution’s 112-year history, the Smithsonian Institution said.

“I’ve had a love affair with dinosaurs since I was a boy,” Koch, who turned 72 on Thursday, told Reuters in a telephone interview from New York, where he lives.

“I realized that the exhibit at the Smithsonian was very out of date. Some of it goes back 100 years, and we were in desperate need of renovation,” said Koch, who is on the museum’s board of directors.

The current display on dinosaurs and paleontology has gone mostly unchanged for 30 years, and the Koch donation will cover most of the planned $45 million renovation, said Randall Kremer, a spokesman for the museum.

“This would not happen if not for the gift from Mr. Koch,” Kremer said. “This is just a great day for the museum and the country.”

The new hall will showcase part of the museum’s 46 million-piece fossil collection and feature new displays on how dinosaurs and other creatures lived.

The Smithsonian Board of Regents agreed to name the updated 25,000-square-foot exhibition space after Koch. The museum already has the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2010.

Koch has donated to the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2006, he gave $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to support its dinosaur exhibit.

David and his brother Charles Koch are also among the largest contributors to Republican causes and candidates.

Koch said on Thursday he has given “by far” more money to philanthropic, charitable and other non-profit groups than he has to political concerns.

“I have a strong moral code and I have an opportunity to give,” he said.

Reporting by Kevin Murphy; editing by David Bailey and Todd Eastham

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