The Museum opened in 1947 on Bradenton’s Memorial Pier with the Montague Tallant collection of Florida’s First Peoples pre- and immediate post-contact archaeological material along with collections relating to the scientific and cultural history of southwest Florida and Manatee County.
In 1949, Baby Snoots, a West Indian manatee, who would later be known as Snooty™, arrived. The Museum emerged as a leading cultural organization in the community, providing educational programs and field trips to hundreds of thousands of students through the decades.
In 1966, the Museum moved to its present site on 10th Street West and added the Bishop Planetarium, named in honor of Edward and Lillian Bishop. The addition of the Planetarium afforded Museum visitors an expanded opportunity to learn about history in the making with programming that coincided with early space exploration.
Snooty™, who continued to thrill visitors, was moved into a larger pool and new permanent exhibits — including life-sized dioramas — were created to tell the story of Florida’s first human inhabitants, natural and cultural history, filling the new two-story Museum.
In 1980, a replica of the Spanish town of Barcarrota’s Plaza, featuring replicas of a 16th century home and chapel, was built around a centerpiece fountain that showcased a monumental equestrian bronze statue of Hernando De Soto on horseback.
The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, with a 60,000-gallon pool for Snooty™, opened in 1993 and completed the Plaza with above-and-below-water viewing capabilities, a medical pool, an exhibition viewing area and allowed for additional manatees. The Museum was among the founding partners of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership in 1998.
A complete renovation of the Museum’s exhibits and education facilities began in 1998. In August 2001, an early-morning electrical fire destroyed the Bishop Planetarium and severely damaged a newly completed state-of-the-art education wing and all of the Museum’s administrative areas. In September 2002, the Museum opened the first floor with new immersive natural history exhibits and a gallery for temporary, special exhibitions. A new education wing was re-opened in March 2004 and the new state-of-the-science Planetarium and theater opened in June 2005.
Second floor renovations included a new Gallery of Medical Science objects, Patrons’ gallery of decorative and fine arts objects, Visible Storage Galleries, River Heritage Hall, and an environmental wing of exhibits depicting Florida’s pine uplands, riverine, estuarine and Gulf waters habitats.
A new Planetarium projection system and group of shows debuted in October 2013. The Digistar 5 dual projection system remains among the most advanced planetarium technologies in the world and allows for exploration of Earth through the use of 200 continually updated satellite datasets of our planet’s land, ocean, atmosphere and climate, and live Bing and OnTerra views of the entire Earth. It also includes a digital, three-dimensional map of the entire universe and stunning multimedia capabilities. The Planetarium is the region’s premier astronomy education facility, as well as a multimedia theater for films, lectures, live music and digital art performances.
For nine years, students and faculty members at Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design have worked with the Planetarium to create animated “full dome” artworks that are entered into full-dome festivals all over the world, and regularly win prizes.
On July 23, 2017, the Museum suffered the tragic loss of Snooty and the City of Bradenton lost its most famous resident when he died at age 69.
January 2018 marked the official groundbreaking for a major addition to the Museum: The new North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe, to create innovative exhibitions for young learners and their families and new classrooms to increase the Museum’s capacity to engage students, educators and the public. The expansion, to the north of the Planetarium in space that was previously a parking lot, is designed to allow the Museum to do more of what it does best: immerse visitors in experiences that support an understanding and appreciation of science and nature.
In June 2018, the Administrative offices were moved into the area that had been the Medical Gallery and Patrons’ Gallery for 13 years to make way for new classrooms and other parts of the North Education Center on the ground floor.
In August 2018, the Museum unveiled its brand-new app, Pathways, designed to connect visitors to the objects in the collection and the many stories they have to tell. Pathways — Compelling Connections for the Chronically Curious, is a smart-phone and tablet-based app “that’s like having a Museum expert in your own pocket.” (The app is available for free in the Apple and Google Play stores. Search for “Pathways SFM.”)
We continue building on our founding legacy of excellence in education, care of collections, engaging exhibitions and programming for visitors and students of all ages.