The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture situated in London. Its collections, which number more than 7 million objects are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents.
The British Museum was established in 1700, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. The British Museum was unique in that it housed both a national museum of antiquities and a national library in the same building.
The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Museum charges no admission fee, although charges are levied for some temporary special exhibitions. Since 2001 the director of the Museum has been Neil MacGregor.
Over his lifetime, Sloane collected more than 71,000 objects which he wanted to be preserved intact after his death. So he bequeathed the whole collection to King George II for the nation in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs.
The gift was accepted and on 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament established the British Museum.
The founding collections largely consisted of books, manuscripts and natural specimens with some antiquities and ethnographic material. In 1757 King George II donated the 'Old Royal Library' of the sovereigns of England and with it the privilege of copyright receipt. With the exception of two World Wars, the Museum has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of 5,000 per year to today's 6 million.
The Museum was involved in much excavation abroad. Its Assyrian collections formed the basis for the understanding of cuneiform.
In 1851 Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks was the first person to be responsible for British and medieval material.
Visitor numbers increased greatly during the nineteenth century. The Museum attracted crowds of all ages and social classes, particularly on public holidays. In 1973 the library became part of a new organisation. This organisation remained at the Museum until 1997, when the books left Bloomsbury for a new building at St Pancras.