History of the Rochester Museum & Science Center

Established in 1912 as the Municipal Museum in Rochester, New York, the Rochester Museum & Science Center has constantly expanded and evolved to meet the changing needs of our community.

The Museum’s first curator, Edward D. Putnam, served from 1913 until 1924, when New York State Archaeologist Arthur C. Parker became museum director. Parker developed the Museum’s holdings and research in anthropology, natural history, geology, biology, and the history and industry of the Genesee Region. Deeply committed to serving the community, Parker saw the Museum as a “university of the common man.” Among Parker’s most important legacies were a WPA-funded program, the Indian Arts Project, and the construction of Bausch Hall.

In 1945, W. Stephen Thomas, a trained museum professional from Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, succeeded Arthur Parker. His enthusiasm for learning was contagious, and he encouraged staff and volunteers to interact with museum visitors within the galleries and through outreach efforts in the community. His tenure saw the creation of state-of-the art dioramas and tremendous growth of collections in history, technology, natural science, archaeology, and anthropology.

An idea that’s out of this world

We began planning for the addition of a planetarium in 1962 and appointed Ian C. McLennan as the director of the facility in progress in 1965. He was the former director of the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In 1968, the Strasenburgh Planetarium opened adjacent to the Museum, and our name officially changed to the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC). The Board of Trustees assumed operation from the city, accepting the county’s promise to fund our operations and our care of “the people’s collections.” We received a charter from the New York State Board of Regents as a private, not-for-profit educational institution.

Following Thomas’ retirement in 1968, Ian McLennan served as RMSC Executive Director until he left to become Director of Ontario Place in Toronto in 1972.

An era of growth

McLennan’s successor, Richard C. Shultz, devoted his efforts to upgrading our physical facilities with new exhibition and educational program spaces from 1973 – 1996.

Shultz oversaw the construction of the 400-seat Eisenhart Auditorium and the Gannett School classroom building for lifelong learning programs. Forty miles away, he established the 900-acre Cumming Nature Center. Three capital campaigns in 1976, 1983, and 1992 funded the addition of Elaine Wilson Hall to the Museum building, the premier of the Strasenburgh Planetarium's giant-screen film system, improvements to collection storage facilities and laboratories, and a significant increase in the endowment fund. The Richard C. Shultz Science on the Edge Lectures are an ongoing tribute to his keen intellect and diverse interests.

The path forward

Current RMSC President Kate Bennett (1996 – present) shares a background in museology, anthropology, and natural science, as well as a passion for lifelong learning with her predecessors Parker and Thomas.

Bennett has inspired the staff to understand and create visitor experiences that engage different learning styles and communicate the excitement of hands-on experimenting and discovering. She encouraged streamlining and cross-departmental collaborations for greater efficiency. She spurred efforts to increase the accessibility of collections and cultivated collaborations with community partners as well as other museums and science centers.

Partnership projects with Monroe BOCES 1 brought new interactive learning experiences: the Challenger Learning Center at the Strasenburgh Planetarium (1997) and the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory (BUBL™) in the Museum (1999). In 2001, the Genesee Community Charter School opened on our campus.

Responding to contemporary visitor requirements, we created new galleries with increased interactivity and opportunities for families to share fun learning experiences, including the Patricia F. Hale Hands-On Gallery (2001) and the Riedman Gallery (2006). At the same time, we are recreating existing galleries, beginning with the spectacular Expedition Earth natural science exhibition that opened in January 2006 and expanded into two additional galleries in 2008.

Working with RMSC managers and Trustees, President Bennett continues to create and implement strategic business plans for a 21st Century facility. Understanding the value of careful listening and collaboration, the RMSC will continue to grow and change in concert with the community we serve.

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