Sunday, February 18, 2018 marks a historic moment for the Barnum Museum: our 125th birthday. On February 18, 1893 the iconic Barnum Institute of Science and History first opened its doors to the public, and has been welcoming guests from around the globe ever since!
Many people have asked over the years if “this was Barnum’s house?” It never was. Barnum intended the site to be his final gift to his beloved Bridgeport: a research library, museum, and lecture hall that would serve as a place of intellectual exchange and community engagement. The first floor of the Museum was to be occupied by the Bridgeport Medical Society, the second floor for the collection and display of the Fairfield County Historical Society and the Bridgeport Scientific Society and the third floor as an auditorium for lectures and discussions. Among the notables who spoke to the members over the years were Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Thomas Edison.
Barnum intended the Barnum Institute of Science and History, as it was originally called, to carry forward his passion to inspire learning and promote happiness. He was devoted to the museum project, giving his own land, funds, collections and expertise to ensure its success; but he did not live to see it completed, approving plans for the building’s construction only three weeks before his death on April 7, 1891.
The beautiful 1893 museum building is a massive Romanesque red stone structure (possibly influenced in design by other grand museums like the Museum of Natural History in New York City) with a distinctive grand dome, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to scientific and historic documents and relics in the collections, many documents, artwork, and objects were bequeathed or donated by P.T. Barnum and his second wife, Nancy Fish Barnum, and the museum continues to acquire material. Objects that are still in the collection today continue to enthrall guests and researchers, including pieces from Barnum’s Iranistan mansion, personal family items and even Pa-Ib, the 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.
Barnum intended the Barnum Institute of Science and History to be his legacy and carry forward his passion to inspire learning and promote happiness. Today, the Barnum Museum carries on Barnum’s vision to be a place of instruction and amuseument, to be a beacon for future dreamers, creators and innovators…for anyone and everyone who dares to dream big like Barnum!