Uncover Indiana's secrets at this world-class institution, featuring unique exhibits and hands-on experiences that showcase the unique stories, events and characters that have helped shape Indiana's history. Located in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis, the Indiana State Museum brings the best of the museum world to Indiana. Spanning three floors of Core Galleries, the museum tells the story of the Hoosier state, and features a year-round calendar of exhibits that dive deeper into Indiana art, science and culture. Constructed completely from Indiana materials — including limestone, sandstone, steel, brick and glass — the building itself is a work of art, with icons representing each of Indiana’s 92 counties integrated into its exterior walls. Step inside, and you’ll be invited to explore Indiana’s past, present and future through scientific, cultural, historical and art exhibits that help define our place in the world.
The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites collect, preserve, interpret and present the material record of Indiana’s art, science and culture while bringing quality museum offerings from around the world to Indiana to encourage people to discover the world and Indiana’s role in it – as it was, as it is and as it can be.
We accomplish our mission
by embracing these values:
Inspiring our audience to acquire knowledge by offering exciting opportunities that are provocative, enjoyable and beneficial.
An active and emotional experience that is shared with others and involves some element of risk or surprise. A novel or exciting event that is engaging and memorable.
actively collecting and preserving knowledge, artifacts, objects and significant sites held in the public trust.
achieving a reputation for surpassing quality in exhibits, research and education, and continuing to rise above expectations.
Serving as a forum for significant issues facing our society while being flexible and timely in reacting to our audience's needs.
Board of Directors
William A. Browne Jr., Chair
Andrew Dahlem, Ph.D., Vice-Chair
Sandra Kemmish May, Secretary
Clinton Pletcher, Treasurer
Thomas A. King, President & CEO
Gregory L. Pemberton, Past Chair
Stefan S. Anderson
Maclyn (Mac) Parker
Minerals and other
The original collection of the Indiana State Museum was started in 1862, during the Civil War, when State Librarian R. Deloss Brown began collecting minerals and other curiosities that he kept in a cabinet. In 1869, the Indiana General Assembly enacted a law which provided “for the collection and preservation of a Geological and Mineralogical Cabinet of the Natural History of this State.” A state geologist was assigned the task of labeling and organizing the collection, becoming the first employee of the Indiana State Museum.
The natural history collection quickly developed beyond the legislature’s original intent when hundreds of cultural items, many relating to the recent Civil War, were added. Soon the collection was a museum of sorts, with a hodge-podge of curios and specimens.
Fits and Starts
The museum’s collection was displayed in a spacious room on the third floor of the State Capitol building in 1888, but it didn’t remain there for long. It was frequently moved from room to room until 1919, when the collection was sent to a most inhospitable place, the basement of the Statehouse. It would languish in this location for almost 45 years, completely closing once in the late 1920s and again in the early 1960s.
Then, during the administration of Governor Ralph H. Gates (1945-1949), important steps were taken to establish a new and modern state museum. Staff members who knew how to care for artifacts and operate a museum were hired. Possible sites for a new facility were studied and designs created. Philanthropist Eli Lilly, excited by the prospect of a professional-quality museum of Indiana heritage, donated the ground on the northwest corner of Ohio and Senate streets to the state. Unfortunately, the plans fell through, probably due to the $3.5 million price tag.
Later, the administration of Governor Harold W. Handley (1957-1961) and the legislature authorized a commission to examine the state museum. The commission recommended the construction of a building on the site originally proposed by the Gates administration. The commission reported that its members had “been forced to the reluctant conclusion that Indiana has the poorest and most inadequate state museum in the United States.”
A Real Home
It wasn’t until 1962 that Governor Matthew E. Welsh (1961-1965) approved the resumption of the planning for a new state museum, but with a very different direction. The Indianapolis City Hall at 202 N. Alabama St. had become vacant in 1961. The state and the city worked out an agreement for the museum to use the building. The structure was to undergo massive renovations to prepare it for life as a museum, at a cost of about $830,000.
In 1967, the Indiana State Museum opened its doors in its first real home. It had four floors and a basement in which to develop exhibits, store and preserve collections, and provide office space for staff.In 1969, the Indiana State Museum Society (now the Indiana State Museum Foundation) was established to provide a private, fund-raising support organization. Also in 1969, the Indiana State Museum Volunteer Organization was established to support the small museum staff. By 1976, the museum had received accreditation from the American Association of Museums.
The Heart of White River
As years passed and the collection grew, the old City Hall was becoming too small to meet the needs of the institution. Proposals were made in the late 1970s and mid-1980s for a variety of additions to the facility. Some involved purchasing nearby buildings, and others involved creating brand-new facilities that would connect to the old City Hall building.
The museum’s board voted to move to White River State Park in 1984. However, it was not until the late 1990s that the Indiana General Assembly appropriated funding for an August 1999 groundbreaking for what would become the current Indiana State Museum.
The Indiana State Museum closed its doors in the old City Hall on Dec. 31, 2001, to prepare for its move to a new home at 650 W. Washington St. in the heart of White River State Park. On May 22, 2002, the new Indiana State Museum welcomed more than 5,000 visitors into the new building.
Today, the Indiana State Museum continues to explore Indiana's science and culture. Visitors come to celebrate, investigate, remember, learn and take pride in Indiana's story in the context of our broader world. Look around our website for a peek at what you can find today at the Indiana State Museum!
Are you a college student looking for real-world museum experience? The Indiana State Museum has internship opportunities available in nearly every department.
Be a part of showcasing Indiana’s past, present and future. Museum volunteers play a critical role in ensuring that each visitor has an amazing experience. Whether you have a passion for art, science or culture, or just want to share a dose of Hoosier hospitality with museum guests, we have a volunteer opportunity to interest you.
The Indiana State Museum is one of Indianapolis’ premier rental facilities. With a wide variety of distinctive spaces available, extraordinary views of downtown Indianapolis and a team to work with you from idea to execution, the museum can transform into a space that is uniquely yours.