The British Museum was founded in 1753, when Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and collector, willed his collection of 71,000 historical objects to George II. Sloane willed his collection to George II in hopes that the items in the collection would stay together rather than be dispersed. King George II and Parliament accepted the endowment and raised money in order to purchase a repository for the collection. The selected repository was The Montagu House, a 17th century mansion in Bloomsbury.
By 1852 the collection had grown too big for the house, because in addition to the initial collection donated by Sloane, King George II donated the Old Royal Library and King George IV donated the Kings Library.
The museum also purchased a collection of Greek vases and other classical objects, as well as the Rosetta Stone and a collection of classical sculptures. Once the collection was too big for the house, there were several construction projects that expanded the building. Finally, in 1852 the building was demolished and a completely new museum was built.
On January 15 1759, the British Museum opened to the public; and with the exception of two world wars, when parts of the museums collection were evacuated, the museum has remained open. Its attendance has grown from about 5,000 people a year to 5 million people a year. The British Museum followed through with some of the theories from the Enlightenment, it was a totally new type of institution. The museum belonged to the nation, admission was free and it was open to all who wanted to visit. Entry was directed to be given to all studious and curious persons, which links the museum with education for all people.
The expanded Montagu House that originally housed the British Museum
The British Museum after it was completely rebuilt
Caygill, Marjorie. Treasures of the British Museum. New York: Abrams, 1985.
Caleca, Antonino. British Museum, London. New York: Newsweek, 1967.
Biographical Note: The information presented here was taken from the web sites featured. This page was compiled by Kelly Harmon for British History from 1688.