Science Place

By: Lisa C. Maxwell

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 1, 1995

In 1946 the Dallas Health Museum was founded by a group chartered as the Dallas Academy of Medicine, made up of doctors, dentists, and lay people "to provide a common channel of enthusiastic effort for all the forces of health in Dallas and the Southwest." It was their intention to build a professional office building with a library, auditorium, and medical college. Due to its exorbitant cost, the academy started with a smaller project, the Health Museum, officially chartered on September 17, 1946. Within a year interest in the academy had waned, and it was disbanded. Doctors Oscar Milton Marchman, Sr., and Milford Owen Rouse were charter members of both the academy and the museum. The museum, which was the first to be devoted entirely to health in the Southwest and the second in the nation, held its first exhibit in 1946 at the first State Fair of Texas after World War II. The Dallas Park Department supplied the building for this first exhibit, which borrowed items from area organizations and museums throughout the nation. During this first exhibition, held on October 5–20, 1946, 40,000 visitors attended the displays. On February 1, 1947, the museum opened full-time in a 10,000-square-foot space leased from the Dallas Park Department at Fair Park. In March an appeal was sent out for financial support. The next year exhibits were borrowed from the American Museum of Health, including the most popular exhibit, the transparent man, which became one of the most popular permanent exhibits. The museum's purpose, to provide health education for the public in order to protect health and cure disease, was provided as a public service, and no admission fees were charged. The museum was supported almost entirely by contributions until 1951, when the city of Dallas and the State Fair of Texas began annual contributions. The board of trustees had one medical trustee and four lay trustees.

In the mid-1950s the museum moved to a new location in Fair Park. In 1957 a preschool program was begun at the museum, the first science-based preschool program in the country. In 1958 its name was changed to Dallas Health and Science Museum. In addition, educational programs were held in cooperation with local schools and universities. Gradual improvements were made in the exhibits, and a sixty-seat, thirty-foot, domed planetarium was built. In 1981 plans for renovation of Fair Park called for major changes in the museum by the city. The City Park Board recommended that the museum share space with the Museum of Natural History, also located at Fair Park, under the supervision of a general director of museums chosen by the city. The Dallas Health and Science Museum threatened to leave Fair Park. By the end of the year the museum, renamed Science Place, had a ten-year contract with the city, in which the museum was given most of its requests, including autonomy and occupancy of the building that the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art) vacated in 1983. The museum, also to be called the Southwest Museum of Science and Technology, remodeled its old building, which was built for the Texas Centennial in 1936 as the Domestic Arts Building. In 1986 Science Place expanded into the remodeled second building, which became known as the Science Place Main Building.

In 1985 Richard Coyne became the president and chief executive officer of Science Place. At that time the museum had 100,000 visitors annually, and one-third of its budget came from the city and two-thirds from admission, class tuition, and donations. Coyne arranged such popular traveling exhibits as Robot Dinosaurs and China: 7,000 Years of Discovery, and by 1990 the yearly attendance was 625,000. In the 1990s the museum was located in two buildings. The original 1936 building was renamed Science Place II but by 1992 became known as Science Place Planetarium; it had a thirty-foot planetarium and some permanent displays. The building originally built for the Dallas Museum of Art in 1936, known as Science Place I, became Science Place (Main Building) in the 1990s and hosted traveling exhibits as well as housing a "hands-on" museum devoted to the understanding of how machines, technology, health, and medicine affect our lives. The museum welcomed adults, but it was primarily aimed at children.

Science Place is a nonprofit museum. William M. Smith was its president in 1993, when Marilyn Waters, Jeffrey Courtman, and Dede Roberts served as directors. The Science Place auditorium seated 225, and in addition to the planetarium there was an electric show and "starlab." Films, lectures, and classes were presented. The museum had its own store and food service. The Science Place Pages was published quarterly with museum news and information on current and upcoming exhibits. In 2003 the museum consisted of a separate planetarium and a main building housing exhibits and an IMAX theater. School programs hosted some 150,000 students and teachers each year, and "on-campus" programs brought traveling museum exhibits to some 50,000 more students.

Dallas Morning News, December 29, 1981, June 3, 1985, March 3, 1989. Official Museum Directory, 1992. Vertical File, Dallas Public Library.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Lisa C. Maxwell, “Science Place,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995

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