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History of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Resources for researching the history of the museum, including exhibitions.

Our Story

To get an overview of the history of the museum, you can read a decade-by-decade history on the Our Story page. This page will tell you about our origins, major exhibitions and acquisitions, as well as building campaigns.

The name, as well as the physical location, of the museum has changed since the museum first opened in 1876. Below you'll find key dates, names, and locations, which should aid you in your research.

  • The PMA first opened in Memorial Hall, following the Centennial Exhibition, as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (PMSIA). The school—now the University of the Arts—and the museum formally separated in 1964. You can read more about this here and if you would like information on students, please contact the UArts archives directly.
  • The official opening of the main museum occurred in April 1928, however, Memorial Hall was maintained and used by the museum until 1954.
  • The name of the museum changed from The Pennsylvania Museum of Art to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in May 1938.
  • The Perelman Building opened in 2007.

Archives

The Archives documents the key activities of the museum, our directors, curators, and all other departments involved in programs and operations since our founding in 1876. Our collections also include the personal papers and manuscript collections of people related to the museum, which helps us tell the story of the institution and its collections. You can learn more about our archival collections and booking an appointment here.

Bulletins

The museum Bulletin was published from 1903–2012. These are all available via JSTOR (please note that from 1903–1938, the publication was called the Pennsylvania Museum of Art Bulletin. The name was changed to reflect the museum's name change). The bulletin is also available via the Internet Archive. Hard copies from 1903 through 2008 are available in the library reading room.

Annual Reports

Annual Reports were published from 1892 to 1948 and then again from 1979 through 2015, when printing ceased. The Annual Reports are available online through 1948, as well as for 2016, 2017, and 2018. Copies from 1892 through 2015 are available for use in the library.

Board Minutes

Alongside the Annual Report and Bulletin, the Board of Trustee (and related committees) minutes are another good resource for learning about staffing changes, major acquisitions, as well as departmental shifts. These records are a part of our archival collection. Please consult the finding aid and contact the archives if you are interested in accessing these records.

PMA Web Archives

The PMA website has been crawled by the Wayback Machine since December 1998. The content has been captured over 4,500 times and is available here