Collecting our history at the Saint Louis Science Center.
Most science centers do not collect, or have collections of artifacts, because their approach to learning is experiential and hands-on with interactive exhibits. What makes the Saint Louis Science Center unusual among science centers is that we do have collections—featuring over 100,000 amazing artifacts.
So why does the Science Center have collections? That answer lies in our history as an institution. The Academy of Science of St. Louis was founded in 1856, bringing together members who were serious collectors of objects in traditional disciplines such as archaeology, paleontology, zoology and geology. The accumulation of objects and this group’s interest in science, led to the creation of a number of exhibit spaces in different places over a number of years, finally resulting in the formation of the Museum of Science and Natural History in 1959. The Academy of Science gave up control of their collections to the new museum, and the collections continued to expand and grow over the next few decades. Technological, cultural and medical objects were added to the collections during this time. In 1985, the Museum of Science and Natural History merged with the city’s Planetarium to become the Saint Louis Science Center.
When the Science Center first opened to the public in July 1985, the Collections items played an important role by providing the backbone for many of the new exhibits. Even though the newly formed Science Center focused on informal science learning through hands-on exhibits, staff recognized the importance of these items and specified that the Collections items would be maintained and would support the Science Center’s mission and goals through their use in education, programs and exhibits. However, combining with the Planetarium illustrated a need for Collections to expand further in the area of space sciences in order to fully support the Science Center’s mission.
The completion of the 135,000-square-foot Oakland Building provided more opportunities to display Collections artifacts, and efforts to include artifacts in the galleries were consistent throughout the new building. Since 2013, standalone Collections displays have popped up throughout the building to support OMNIMAX® Theater films, special exhibitions, First Fridays, Member events, SciFests, temporary exhibits and many other Science Center programs and events. Other displays have found a more permanent home, such as the Artifact of the Month display and the Collections Wall displays outside of GameXPloration. Through it all, the Collections are still growing, bringing in artifacts to support the Science Center’s mission and help tell those all-important science and technology stories like only the Collections can.