History of the Museum

The First Hundred Years

Part One: The Beginning

The Museum of Natural History, the second oldest museum in the United States west of the Mississippi River, was established in 1858 when the Iowa General Assembly directed the University

Old Capitol in the 1860s
to house specimens from the State Natural History and Geological Surveys in a cabinet of natural history to be located in the Old Capitol building. The directive was in response to a faculty petition requesting funding for specimens and space to support teaching in the natural sciences. The appeal compared Iowa's paucity in such resources to the abundant collections managed by several leading eastern universities in the U.S. as well as the British Museum:  

Another source of expense arises in the collection of the various and valuable cabinets of natural history, including agriculture, geological, mineralogical, botanical, paleontological, and zoological cabinets, with collections in science and art, and cabinets of historical relics, and the antiquities of our own and other countries. Our deficiency might be shown by a reference to the collections of Williams, Amherst, and Yale Colleges, to Harvard University, and especially to the magnificent cabinets of the British Museum of London. . . (12/1857)

Out of this wide-ranging request came the legislative resolution establishing the Museum:  

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, that there be and hereby is appropriated the sum of three thousand dollars for repairing and modifying the building now occupied by the State University of Iowa, and for fitting up one or more rooms thereof for a cabinet to receive the specimens collected and to be collected by the State Geologist. (1858)

The building referenced in the legislative charge was the Old Capitol, the University's only building in 1858.

Back to About Us Part Two: Early Curators