The museum was incorporated as a privately endowed institution in 1933, with Hattie Speed serving as it's first president and director. A board of governors was also established and the Speed received its first major donation in 1934--a collection of North American Indian artifacts gifted by Dr. Frederick Weygold. The first of three additions to the facility was completed in 1954 following donations made by Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite. The museum's collections were expanded under the watch of Addison Franklin Page, who assumed the position of director in 1962. Additions to the north and south side of the facility were completed during Page's tenure.
The museum was renovated in 1996 after James Breckinridge's granddaughter gifted $50 million to the Speed's endowment. The facility reopened in 1997 and is supported entirely by donations, endowments, grants, ticket sales, and memberships.
The Speed is once again closed for a major renovation.