Located within the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, the State Museum of Pennsylvania was commissioned by Governor Samuel Pennypacker in 1905 to “…collect, care for, and exhibit the flora, fauna, history, archaeology and fine arts of the Commonwealth.” It was originally housed in the Executive Library and Museum Building beginning in 1907 and moved into its current building in 1964. Today, it offers numerous permanent and rotating exhibits that showcase the history, people, artwork and natural science of Pennsylvania. The museum also houses a planetarium. The current museum building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Back at the
beginning of the 20th century, the Pennsylvania State Legislature
decided to create a state museum that would showcase the unique history and
natural world of Pennsylvania and memorialize the life of William Penn. They then passed, and Governor Pennypacker
signed that legislation in 1905. The
collected artifacts found a home in 1907 when the museum set up shop in the
Executive Library and Museum Building which was designed by Philadelphia
architect John Windrim in a Beaux Arts style.
Initially, it was formed around the Pennsylvania Exhibit from the
Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 and was divided into two divisions:
Education and Zoology. The Education
Division displayed the works of children from Pennsylvania schools and the
Zoology Division displayed over 550 specimens collected by Boyd Rothrock. The Zoology Division later added the
subdivisions of archaeology and geology.
participated in the Depression Era Works Progress Administration during the
1930s to gain federal support for its fine arts section as it also became a
major repository for Pennsylvanian works of art. During the 1940s it came under the purview of
the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and its home went through
major renovations at the same time it was outgrowing that same home. As a result, the push for a new home began in
1944. However, those lobbying for a new
building would have to wait 20 years to see their goal achieved.
Executive Director Sylvester Stevens, state funds were finally set aside in
1957 and Governor David Lawrence signed legislation to begin work on the new
museum in 1959. The state hired the
architectural firm of Lawrie and Green and ground was broken in 1962. The new building and current home of the
museum features a four-story rotunda that is dedicated to the founder of the
state, William Penn, and, for a time, it was known as the William Penn Memorial
Museum. The entrance rotunda displays an
18-foot tall, 3,800-pound bronze statue of Penn created by Janet de Coux. Located on the periphery of the rotunda are
digitized copies of documents significant to Pennsylvania history, to include
the original charter given to Penn by Charles II.
museum offers the following permanent exhibits: Pennsylvania Icons, Village
Square, Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery, Transportation and Industry, Projects
of Valor: Commemorating the Civil War in Pennsylvania, Hall of Geology, Life
Through Time, Mammal Hall, and Ecology Hall.
It also displays a variety of rotating exhibits. Please call or visit their website for