Skip to Content

History & Facts

The University of Michigan's Natural History collections were established in the mid-19th century and became significant with the donation of over 60,000 specimens by a world-traveling alumnus, Joseph Beal Steere, in the 1870s. 

The current building was completed in 1928.  In the early 20th century, the University Museum subdivided into four separate research museums:  the Museums of Paleontology, Zoology, and Anthropological Archaeology, and the University Herbarium.  The Museum of Natural History, devoted exclusively to the development of exhibits and educational programs, was officially created in 1956, although public displays had been offered for some 100 years at that point.

The Museum of Natural History was the recipient of the Kathleen Power Collaboration Award, given by Nonprofit Excellence at Work (NEW).   The Museum was recognized for the Family Reading and Science Program that is coordinated with numerous libraries in local counties. 

The Museum is located in the Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building, named for the former University Museums Director and University President. Click here for a recent story about Ruthven.

Mission

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History promotes understanding and appreciation of the natural world and our place in it.  We create exhibits and programs that inspire diverse audiences to engage in exploration of scientific research and discovery. 

Vision

Our vision is to be the hub for science outreach at the University of Michigan and a dynamic community forum, facilitating active participation and promoting the public understanding of science. 

Attendance

150,000+, including about 18,000 school children in groups

Audience

School children, families, University students and faculty, alumni, tourists, general visitors

Accessibility

Free admission. (Fees apply for groups and Planetarium shows.)  Open 357 days per year. Accessible facility.

Exhibits

Permanent exhibits on dinosaurs and other prehistoric life, Michigan wildlife, anthropology, geology, changing temporary exhibits, and a Planetarium.

Programs

  • Tours and other programs for school groups (400-600 groups/year)
  • Planetarium shows for scheduled groups and the public
  • Summer camp
  • School field trip programs
  • Science Cafés
  • Lectures, panel discussions, demonstrations
  • Teacher training workshops
  • Discovery Days
  • ID Day
  • Behind the Scenes Day
  • Family Reading and Science
  • Science for Tomorrow
  • Family Halloween party
  • Exhibit openings
  • Preschool programs
  • Dinosaur and space birthday parties
  • Dinosaur Tours
  • Hands-On Demonstrations

Budget

$900,000+, of which approximately half is earned or raised by the Museum

History

  • U-M's natural history collections were founded in 1837
  • Ruthven Museums Building completed in 1928
  • Exhibit Museum formally established in 1956
  • The Museum changed its name from the "Exhibit Museum of Natural History" to the "University of Michigan Museum of Natural History" in 2011.

Purpose

Exhibits and education (not collecting or research)

Governance

A unit of the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science & the Arts

Facility

19,000 square feet of exhibit space in a building shared with three research museums (Anthropological Archaeology, Zoology, Paleontology)

Staff

9 full-time staff, 5 part-time staff and temps, 50-60 paid student docents

Tax status

501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit organization