The National Museum was established in Manila on October 29, 1901 as “The Insular Museum of Ethnology, Natural History and Commerce” under the Department of Public Instruction by virtue of ACT No. 284 passed by the Philippine Commission. It was created basically to complement the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes which was subsequently named Bureau of Ethnological Survey.

After the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition at St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, the original name of the Museum was changed to “Philippine Museum” while the Bureau of Ethnological Survey ceased to be an independent unit to become a Division of Ethnology under the Bureau of Education in 1905 to be transferred to the Bureau of Science in 1906.

In 1916 through ACT No. 2572, the Division of Ethnology and the Fine Arts Division of the Philippine Museum were merged to create the “Philippine Library and Museum” while the Natural History Division, all that was left of the Philippine Museum, was retained in the Bureau of Science.

On December 7, 1928, the “National Museum of the Philippine Islands” was created under the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources through ACT No. 3477 only to be abolished in 1933 by ACT No. 4007 transferring the Division of Fine Arts to the National Library (then Philippine Library and Museum) and the Division of Ethnology to the Bureau of Science. The Division of Ethnology and the Natural History Division were combined to become the “National Museum Division”. This was renamed the “Natural History Museum Division” and placed under the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce in 1939 through Commonwealth Act No. 453. The Division was later joined with the National Library’s Division of Fine Arts to become the “National Museum” under the Office of the Executive Secretary.

In 1951, the National Museum was placed under the Department of Education by virtue of Executive Order No. 392 where in remained until Republic Act 8492 was approved and signed on February 12, 1998. Republic Act 8492, also known as the National Museum Act of 1998, finally established the National Museum as an independent institution with a permanent home of its own.

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