The Museum of Texas Tech University, formerly called the West Texas Museum, was established by the Plains Museum Society, which was formed on March 27, 1929, in Lubbock with sixty-nine charter members; the name of the society was changed to West Texas Museum Association on June 12, 1935. Plans for a three-story museum had been drawn, but funds for construction were not available until the Centennial Commission of Control made partial construction possible through its allocation of $25,000. Previously, in the summer of 1935, sixty-seven counties had agreed to pool their Texas Centennial interests for a regional museum and for thirty-five historical markers, a goal only partially fulfilled through the allocation. The basement was completed and formally dedicated on March 5, 1937. In 1948 the Texas Technological College regents, at the request of the West Texas Museum Association, allocated $184,381 from the surplus of the veterans' program, which, added to funds previously raised, made completion of the museum a reality, at a cost of $226,000. The formal opening in 1950 coincided with Texas Tech's silver anniversary.
The South Plains mural in the rotunda, completed by artist Peter Hurd in 1954, featured prominent individuals from the history of the area. The hall of earth and man, an archeological and paleontological gallery, and other galleries devoted to the South Plains and its history, depicted the growth of the region. A large art gallery, an auditorium, and a planetarium offered facilities for year-round exhibits, classes, and lectures. In 1969 the museum was officially renamed, and in the fall of 1970 the Museum of Texas Tech University moved into a new $2.5 million facility on a seventy-six-acre tract. The rotunda housing the Hurd mural was no longer a part of the museum, but remained on the campus as Holden Hall. Adjacent to the museum is the Ranching Heritage Center, an outdoor exhibit depicting the development of ranching through more than thirty historical structures, relocated and authentically restored and landscaped on the site. The Moody Planetarium offers lecture-demonstrations on a regular basis. Collections in art, archeology, biology, geology, history, and paleontology are housed in the museum and used for research and exhibition. Permanent exhibits include a depiction of the heritage of the Llano Estacado, completed in 1973, and the hall of early Texas cultures, which opened in the fall of 1974. The university's International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Land Studies, in cooperation with the museum, focuses on man and his environment. Beginning in September 1974 a master of arts degree in museum science was offered by Texas Tech University, utilizing the museum's collections and facilities in cooperation with related campus departments.
After the museum's move to its present facilities, John McLoughlin, Craig C. Black, and Clyde Jones served successively as directors. The West Texas Museum Association continued its support of the Museum of Texas Tech University; its publication, the Museum Journal (begun in 1934), continued to publish articles and books on West Texas history. Beginning in 1972 the Museum Quarterly, devoted to the activities of the museum, was issued until budget cuts in the 1980s resulted in its demise; later a monthly newsletter, the Museum Digest, was published by the WTMA. The museum's education program received a boost in 1987 with the opening of the Explorium, a hands-on exhibit hall for school children. The art galleries and other exhibit areas were altered during the late 1980s. The West Texas Museum Association celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in the fall of 1989, when Gary Edson was museum director. The museum, through research conducted by staff members and students, issues two series of scholarly publication: Occasional Papers of the Museum of Texas Tech University and Special Publications of the Museum of Texas Tech University. In 1993 the size of the collection had reached 32,726,500 items. The museum had forty employees and 160,000 visitors annually. A new wing was under construction for the Diamond M Art Collection.