Founded in 1927, Hastings Museum is the largest municipal museum between Chicago and Denver. Featuring a Theatre with a 65-foot wide screen and large domed Planetarium, we house dozens of animal species set in their natural habitats, allowing you to get an up close look at many amazing creatures!
We also chronicle the history of the early inhabitants of the Nebraska plains, from paleo-Indians to euro-Americans, while providing a look back at the creatures that used to roam this area and swim in Cretaceous Sea. Of course you’ll also discover how Kool-Aid, the famous soft drink invented in Hastings, came to be such a success.
Hastings Museum, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, connects people to the world – and universe – through educational programs, exhibits and films, and inspires greater public respect for and understanding of our past and future.
We bring you life up close!
Albert Brooking spent most of his life gathering artifacts and specimens from all over the United States. As much as he enjoyed amassing this assortment of objects, he was not satisfied with just collecting. He dreamed that one day he would be able to house his collection in a Museum and share it with everyone.
Like today, in the early 1900s Hastings hosted many cultural and social events. The idea of building a Museum to add another cultural experience was strongly supported by the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber formed a Museum Committee on June 8, 1926. The committee soon petitioned to acquire space in Highland Park for the Museum.
Hastings City Council donated the site in Highland Park for the construction of a Museum. They also agreed to provide salaries for two Museum employees and to heat the building – but the city could not afford to construct a building. Instead, a temporary location was secured in the Hawthorne school building, and Brooking was placed in charge of the Museum. Work began in November 1926.
Hastings Museum opened at this location on January 9, 1927. Visitors were amazed by more than 2,000 mounted birds completed by Brooking, A.T. Hill’s nationally known American Indian collection, hallways filled with firearms and more.
The Museum’s collections grew rapidly and five years later was bursting at the seams. In January 1932, the Board of Education passed a motion to lend the Morton school building to the city for use as a Museum. The Museum opened at that site on April 17, 1932.
The Great Depression brought public relief programs funded by federal grants. The grants were designed to employ people and aid in projects that would benefit the public. In 1935, the city began applying for federal grants to help construct a Museum building. Funding through the Work Projects Administration (WPA) came in the fall of 1937.
At long last, the collection that Brooking worked hard to gather would be housed in a new and permanent building – and the City of Hastings would have the largest municipal museum between Chicago and Denver.
Long before the building was complete, work began on the detailed animal dioramas. For example, the time consuming task of creating foliage yielded more than 500,000 hand-made leaves! This portion of the dioramas was supervised by Don Karr.
For more on the dioramas, including details on the backgrounds painted by Iris Daugherty Nunley, click here.
After countless hours of work, the Hastings Museum building was dedicated during Jubilleum Days on June 15, 1939. A highlight was the dedication speech delivered by Dr. Charles Abbott, secretary at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Abbott’s speech was delivered after a grand introduction orchestrated from Washington. Vice President John Garner began the festivities by pushing a button in Washington that set off a charge of dynamite across the street from the new Museum building!
Some may remember Hastings Museum as the House of Yesterday, a name established in 1941 as a publicity promotion but later led to confusion – with visitors expecting to see a house. In 1978, the House of Yesterday promotion was officially abandoned and the Museum’s public name reverted to Hastings Museum.
Notable dates in the history of Hastings Museum
- June 8, 1926: A Museum Committee is formed and soon petitions the city for space to build in Highland Park – but the city could not afford to construct a building.
- January 9, 1927: The first Museum opens in the Hawthorne school building.
- April 17, 1932: Needing more space, the Museum moves to the Morton school building.
- June 15, 1939: Hastings Museum opens in a new building at its current location. The original space was built with the assistance of WPA grants received in 1937.
- September 11, 1958: Hastings Museum’s planetarium opens, the construction of which was made possible by the J.M. McDonald Foundation.
- January 14, 1972: A $342,000 contract was signed to build the Museum’s second addition. Fundraising for the addition began in 1968 and was headed by Stanley Abbott.
- May 21, 1985: A third addition along the north side of the building opened. It included two storage rooms for the collection and a children’s interactive center.
- January 11, 1991: The Museum announced plans for the addition of a large screen theatre to present films. The original system was IMAX but it was switched to MegaSystems in 2001, which also allowed the showing of Hollywood-type movies.
- March 20, 2009: The Planetarium opens after undergoing a dome upgrade and the addition of a full dome projector. The project was supported by the J.M. McDonald Foundation and the Hastings Museum Foundation.
- August 8, 2011: Hastings Museum announced it had achieved accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition for a museum.
- October 25, 2011: An upgraded Theatre opens, complete with a new screen and the latest in digital projection technology, including the ability to show films and movies in 3D. The project was supported by the Hastings Museum Foundation.