The Mystery of Museum History

January 21, 2021

After reading the book, The Power of Moments, I thought, when did humans create the first museum? My first guess was the early Romans. Wrong. Perhaps the Egyptians? Wrong again.

It was the Brits. The first museum in the world is generally thought to be the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. Named after Elias Ashmole, it was founded in 1683. However, Elias Ashmole previously gave his collection to the University of Oxford in 1677. His gift included books, manuscripts, coins, medals, and other antiquities.

Ashmole specified that the new museum should be housed in a building designed to promote scientific practice. The original museum contained the repository for the collection on the first floor, a lecture hall for natural history on the ground floor, and a state of the art chemical laboratory and anatomy room in the basement. Quite the experience, eh? Think of The Mob Museum and the crime lab.

The Ashmolean Museum’s collection grew extensively and now contains art and archaeology. However, the museum’s purpose remains the same. Specifically, to present and display collections for the enjoyment and advancement of knowledge. This is a worthy purpose indeed. More can be found at As you will see, the museum is now larger and focuses on maintaining a digital presence.

The first museum in the United States is thought to be the Charleston Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, founded in 1773. Inspired by the Ashmolean Museum, it contains collections on natural history, historical material culture, and both documentary and photographic resources. The museum also focuses on the low country area of South Carolina and contains the most comprehensive assemblage of South Carolina materials in the nation. From the website:

Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum, America’s First Museum, has been discovering, preserving, interpreting, celebrating, and sharing ever since. Our collections, exhibitions, educational programs, and events are designed to inspire curiosity and conversation – about the South Carolina Lowcountry – and the stories that make us who we are.

To learn more, visit

So, there you have it. Museums have existed and progressed ever since. Think of all the lives these two museums have touched. We must keep this in mind as we design the next legacy of our history, culture, and experiences. One project we incorporated this philosophy into was the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum, which features award-winning interactive exhibits.

Even though these museums have been around for centuries, they create great new experiences, both online and in person. Experiences that keep them relevant and new. The moments they create in the lives of their patrons are truly remarkable. Similarly, we possess great opportunities in the work we do. With these opportunities come great responsibilities. Let us design things that will stand the test of time!

A photo of Craig Galati, principal and shareholder of LGA Architecture.


Craig S. Galati is a Principal and Shareholder of LGA. His strength lies in helping his team create memorable experiences through design. Through his passion for workshop facilitation and public outreach, Craig has provided invaluable clarity and direction to multiple public and private organizations. Craig is an accomplished speaker and has worked with many organizations on leadership and strategy.