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History & Mission

Our Mission

Turn on the science: Inspire learning. Inform policy. Improve lives.

About the Museum

The Science Museum of Minnesota is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

The Science Museum of Minnesota, founded in 1907, is a large regional science museum located on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. The Science Museum's programs combine research and collection facilities, a public science education center, extensive teacher education and school outreach programs, and an Imax Convertible Dome Omnitheater to provide science education to our audience of more than a million people per year.

The Science Museum's building is 370,000 square feet, built into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The museum's 70,000 square feet of exhibition space includes a 10,000-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery and five permanent galleries covering the topics of paleontology, physical science and technology, the human body, peoples and cultures of the Mississippi River, and the museum's collections. The Mississippi River flows just outside the windows of the museum and past the museum's ten acres of outdoor exhibits and programming space. The Science Museum of Minnesota employs over 600 full and part time staff and is supported by more than 1,000 dedicated volunteers.

The Science Museum of Minnesota is known worldwide for its interactive exhibits, dynamic traveling exhibitions, and internationally distributed large format films. The museum was an early innovator in the use of live theater as a humanizing interpretive tool and continues to be a training ground for other museums wishing to include live programming in their exhibit halls. The museum provides innovative staff development programs for teachers throughout the region and science education outreach programs for K-12 classrooms. The Science Museum constantly explores and implements new technologies to educate our audience about science. The museum's Science Learning Division and St. Croix Watershed Research Station provide significant ongoing scientific research in the areas of anthropology, paleontology, biology, and environmental sciences.

A Brief History

AuditoriumThe beginning of the Science Museum of Minnesota can be traced to a luncheon at the Minnesota Club in 1906 when a small group of St. Paul businessmen, headed by Charles W. Ames, met to discuss "the intellectual and scientific growth of St. Paul." Ames proposed a series of free lectures on hygiene and sanitation, and Thomas Irvine pledged financial support. Thus the St. Paul Institute of Science and Letters was born, later to become the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The institute's first home was in the St. Paul Auditorium on Fourth Street. Thousands of scientific specimens and valuable collections were offered as gifts, including a mummy shipped from Egypt by a vacationing St. Paul couple. Upon incorporation in 1907, the institute received its first collections of scientific interest from the St. Paul Academy of Natural Sciences. These became the nucleus of the Science Museum's extensive collections.

Merriam Mansion

Merriam MansionIn 1927 the museum moved to the Merriam Mansion on Capitol Hill, the former home of Col. John Merriam. Originally the museum's board had planned to tear down the house in favor of new construction, but lack of funds did not allow them to do this. Instead, they settled with modifying the house. In less than a decade this became overcrowded and an auditorium and exhibition hall were added and opened in 1938. The addition allowed the museum to properly display its exhibits, whereas before it had lacked storage drawers for specimens, laboratory facilities, and modern display cases. A further renovation in 1945 upgraded the public entrance and lobby area, resulting in the museum engaging in its first full-fledged sales activity.

Arts and Sciences Center

The Science Museum of Minnesota continued to outgrow its facilities. In 1964 the museum moved to a new building at 30 East Tenth Street, the St. Paul-Ramsey Arts and Sciences Center, which also housed other member agencies of the St. Paul-Ramsey Arts and Science Council. During this time the Institute also officially changed its name to the Science Museum. As part of the move the St. Paul Academy football team was employed in boxing up and transporting the museum's library collection, and senior library majors from the College of St. Catherine spent several summers unpacking and shelving the collection.

In its new space the Science Museum continued to expand its film showings, educational programs, youth activities, and research capacities. The museum became the third in the world to have a fully mounted Triceratops on display, discovered by museum paleontologist Bruce R. Erickson in the Montana Badlands and mounted in the building's concourse. In 1967 a new department of science and technology was established. In the early 1970s the Science Museum pioneered the method of using theater performers and dramatic presentations as interpretive exhibit tools.

Arts and Sciences Center Expansion

Arts and Sciences CenterIn 1978 the Science Museum of Minnesota completed a major expansion program and opened a new building in an adjacent block on Wabasha, which included three new exhibit halls and the William L. McKnight-3M Omnitheater. Connected to the Arts and Sciences Center by a walkway, the building provided an additional 80,000 square feet to be used for the museum theater, exhibit program, and lobby. Iggy, the giant metal iguana sculpture fashioned out of railroad spikes by Nick Swearer, was also purchased at this time and displayed outside the new building. The Science Museum's Omnitheater was the second in the world to be completed. Major exhibits, such as Wolves and Humans and Dinosaurs, the production of Omnitheater films, the hosting of educational lectures, and ongoing research continued to earn the museum broader recognition, increased volunteer support, and larger numbers of members and visitors.

Riverfront Location

Riverfront LocationIn the early 1990s, the board of trustees and museum staff began plans for a new facility. By 1994 the Science Museum of Minnesota was one of the largest nonprofit employers in the state. The museum continued to diversify and expand its programs through producing and selling exhibits, renting its facility for special events, and starting the annual Omnifest in 1996. With aid from public funding initiatives as well as the Minnesota State Legislature, which encouraged the move to the riverfront as part of a larger redevelopment, the museum officially broke ground on May 1, 1997 and held its grand opening on December 11, 1999. The move involved transporting 1.75 million artifacts and specimens, including the 3,900 pound Iggy on an open semi flatbed. The current facility houses the only convertible-dome Omnitheater in the U.S. The museum has seen record-setting attendance and membership in its riverfront location.

Download the 2014 Annual Report