Now referred to as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Natural History had its origins in 1851 when the General Assembly provided for a state geologist appointed by the governor. In addition to his duties of conducting a geological and agricultural survey, the geologist was directed to retain representative samples of the state's minerals. This collection came to be known as the "Cabinet of Minerals" and was housed on the third floor of the State Capitol. It formed the nucleus of the museum's first collection. In 1877 the legislature established the Department of Agriculture, Immigration, and Statistics under the direction of a seven-member Board of Agriculture. Two years later the legislature authorized the board to pay rent and other expenses for a geological museum.

The General Assembly of 1887 directed the board to maintain a museum that would illustrate both the agricultural resources and natural history of the state. This museum was known officially as the North Carolina State Museum. During that era one of its primary purposes was to advertise the state's soil, natural resources, and climate and to encourage settlement of its rural sections. For two decades the museum's staff produced exhibits that appeared in numerous national and international expositions. Many of these exhibits became permanent displays of the museum. In subsequent years the museum was commonly referred to as the State Museum of Natural History. You can learn more about the history of the State Museum in the State Archives online catalog DOC, from which this text is drawn.