History of the MSU Museum

“Cabinets of natural science should be collected [including] specimens of the mineral and vegetable kingdoms, especially of the State of Michigan.”

— Joseph R. Williams, President, Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, Dedication of the College, May 13, 1857

Image of Linton Hall at Michigan State University

Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the first agricultural college in the nation and was later designated as a prototype for land-grant universities established after President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Morrill Act of 1862. Formal classes began in the Spring of 1857, with five faculty instructing 63 students in three buildings: College Hall, Saint’s Rest, and a barn.

The Museum was established in 1857. The first specimens came from faculty member Manly Miles who contributed a collection of Michigan specimens that he had acquired while working on a state natural history survey. These early collections were installed in College Hall, formerly located on the current site of Beaumont Tower. Professor Albert J. Cook, a student of Miles, assembled collections of geological, entomological, and zoological specimens and oversaw the collections during the 1870s and 1880s. By the late 1870s, research areas included archaeology and paleontology, and in 1881 a new Library-Museum building (known today as Linton Hall) was built to accommodate the expanding numbers of specimens.

MSU MuseumGrowing public awareness and interest in natural history in the 1890s led to the appointment of Professor Walter Bradford Barrows as Curator. Dr. Barrows led the growing Museum for nearly three decades, until his death in 1923, when Joseph Stack became the first Museum Director. The Museum continued to flourish and cultural programs were expanded over the next decade. In 1938 the Museum moved to the newly completed Auditorium building, and by the late 1950s, further growth necessitated a move to the vacated Library building (known today as the MSU Museum). Specimens collected by Miles, Cook, Barrows, and Stack are preserved in the MSU Museum collections.

The MSU Museum has had several name changes in its past:

  • 1857 – Museum of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan
  • 1861 – State Agricultural College Museum
  • 1909 – Michigan Agricultural College Museum
  • 1925 – Michigan State College Museum
  • 1955 – Michigan State University Museum
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