Inspiring past Discover the history of the National Museum of Scotland. From humble beginnings in 1854 as an Industrial Museum to a rations centre during the Second World War, the Victorian building is an iconic and much-loved building. Industrial beginnings Opened in 1854 as the Industrial Museum of Scotland, the building was originally inspired by London’s Crystal Palace. Designed by visionary engineer Captain Francis Fowke and local architect Robert Matheson, the building was both beautiful and technically innovative. The east wing and one third of the current main hall were opened by Prince Albert in 1866, by which time it had become the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art. Prince Albert was a driving force behind Britain’s 19th century museum movement and it is significant that he laid the building’s foundation stone in 1861, his last public act. By the time of the building’s jubilee in 1904, the museum had become the Royal Scottish Museum, and was Scotland’s first national public building. This significance as a building of historical importance is reflected today with a Category A listing. No stranger to change Since the doors opened to the public in 1866, the museum has seen many changes in its architecture and its identity. Fowke’s vision took 30 years to complete, culminating in the opening of the west wing in 1890. Behind the Chambers Street facade, the museum has been altered, adapted and extended in response to the growth in the collections and changing public use. Perhaps the most revolutionary change was the installation of electric power in the early 1900s, replacing the original gas lighting. With electricity, came the museum’s first interactive displays, a marine engine and a sectioned locomotive. Those first ‘push button’ displays must have amazed and delighted visitors then as they still do today! The redevelopment will continue that tradition of change, transforming the building into a world-class 21st century museum, the National Museum of Scotland. The heart of the museum The public have always been at the heart of the museum since it opened. Innovative gas lighting enabled evening openings especially for working people. Perhaps more dramatically, the original cafe, known as the Refreshment Room, lost its drinks licence in 1891 after a campaign by temperance reformers! In Victorian times, ‘conversaziones’ – ‘meetings for conversations’ became a popular and fashionable way to socialise at the museum. Some 'conversaziones' were so popular, they caused traffic jams of carriages along the High Street and down as far as the Tron Kirk. Public notices or ‘broadsides’ had to be issued by the City Chambers informing of special traffic arrangements. Today, the public are still very much at the heart of this transformation. Improved access to galleries, exciting new exhibitions and dedicated learning facilities will ensure our collections continue to inspire and delight visitors of all ages. Amazing collections The National Museum of Scotland is one of the few places in the world to house such significant and diverse collections under one roof. The museum’s collections have been built up over two centuries, many gifted by pioneering Scots. Giving visitors more access to these internationally important treasures is at the heart of our transformation project. Find out more You can discover more about the history of National Museums Scotland here.