History of the Museum

Delve into the rich past of the Natural History Museum, from wartime damage and departmental restructures to the people building and studying our vast collections. 

  • British Museum (Natural History) logo.
    A brief history

    An overview of the Museum's inception, from Hans Sloane's British Museum collections to Richard Owen's campaign for a dedicated museum of natural history in South Kensington.

  • Entomological study in the Museum's Spirit Building, 1934.
    Departments

    Find out more about the history of our scientific departments, including major specimen acquisitions and the staff studying our collections.   

  • The Botany Gallery in 1911.
    Galleries and exhibitions

    Discover hundreds of exhibitions hosted by the Natural History Museum since its opening in 1881, and the changing face of galleries during periods of redevelopment and wartime.

  • Geology support staff.
    Museum staff

    From Richard Owen, the Museum's first Superintendent in 1881, to the effects of a major departmental restructure in 2012.

  • Adélie penguins photographed during Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition.
    Donors and collectors

    Meet some of the generous benefactors and dedicated collectors who built our vast collections.

Museum telephonist, 1933.
Contact the Museum Archives

Request information about the Museum Archive materials.

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Chimpanzee skeleton, 1907.
Museum Archives catalogue

Browse or search online for Archive materials.

History and architecture
Architecture

Learn about the key figures involved in the Museum's design and development, including Alfred Waterhouse and Sir Richard Owen.