A Brief History of the Exhibit Museum

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In the 1870s, Joseph Beal Steere, a University of Michigan graduate, donated 60,000 specimens and artifacts relating to anthropology, botany, geology, and zoology collected during a five-year expedition around the world. Recognizing the importance of the Steere collection, the University erected a museum--the first public museum built by a North American university.

In 1906, Alexander Grant Ruthven was appointed curator to the Museum of Natural History. An avid collector of zoological specimens, he added to the collections so steadily that the Museum was renamed The Museum of Zoology, with Ruthven as its director. The original museum building, located on State Street between the present Museum of Art and Angell Hall, could not accommodate the ever-increasing collections, and Ruthven campaigned for a larger building. Designed by Albert Kahn, the present museum building opened in 1928. The other natural history museums were brought together in this new building--the Museums of Anthropology, Paleontology, and Zoology; the Herbarium; and the University's natural history exhibits. Ruthven, who later became President of the University, was named as director of the combined museums.

The Exhibit Museum was formally set apart in 1956; its first director was Irving Reimann. In 1958 a planetarium was added on the fourth floor. In 1969, the building was renamed the Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building, and in the 1970s was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the Exhibit Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, the Museum Paleontology, and the Museum of Zoology--all independent departments in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, each chaired by a separate director--are still housed in the Ruthven Museums Building, along with a branch of the University Library. The extensive collections housed in the research departments in the building provide comprehensive resource materials to document and research the principles of natural history.

Current Director William R. Farrand was appointed in July 1993.

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Text by Daniel D. Madaj.