The Grand Rapids Public Museum has a long history as an educational resource in the community. Founded in 1854 as the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History, the Museum’s first collections were the “Cabinets of Curiosities” put together by important civic leaders such as John Ball.
In 1868 the Lyceum merged with the Grand Rapids Scientific Club, a group of local high school students who contributed their youthful enthusiasm, and their growing collections of specimens, to the institution. This broader focus brought the Museum out of the parlors of the gentlemen, and into the schools.
During the last decades of the 19th century, the Kent Scientific Institute was administered by the Board of Education, and the collections were displayed at Central High School.
By the beginning of the 20th century, it was clear that the growing museum collections needed a home of their own. In 1903, the Board of Education purchased the Howlett house at the corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets, a location that would become the Museum’s home for almost a century.
The “new” Grand Rapids Public Museum was built during the Great Depression with WPA funds from the Federal Government. The building itself was a radical departure from most contemporary museums, and was described by Museum Director Frank DuMond as “accessible as a dime store and friendly as your next door neighbor.”
The Grand Rapids Public Museum began experimenting with planetarium equipment in the early 1960s, and hired its first curator for the new technology in 1964. The planetarium was eventually named after Grand Rapids astronaut Roger B. Chaffee, who was killed in the Apollo I disaster on January 27, 1967.