Joseph Moore was a teacher at the Friends Boarding School in Richmond, Indiana (later to become Earlham College) who began to collect natural history objects to supplement his teaching. At first, he housed his collection in a cabinet in Earlham Hall and later moved it to a small room. The collection was constantly being enlarged and when Lindley Hall was built in 1887, the lower floor of one wing was designated for the museum. In 1889, the fossil Giant Beaver and Ta'an, the mummy, were acquired. Also during this time, the museum received the skeleton of "Tippo Sahib", a local circus elephant that had gone mad and had to be shot. Its skeleton was mounted next to that of the mastodon. Attempts to catalog items were made, but like other museums of this time period, the total collection was on display as a jumble of objects. In 1905, after the death of Joseph Moore, Allan D. Hole followed him as curator. During Hole's tenure, the Accession Books were started and specimens were arranged more systematically.
Shortly after midnight on October 23, 1924, a night watchman noticed that Lindley Hall was on fire. Students helped remove specimens including the mummy after realizing the building was doomed. The giant beaver was carried out by Gordon Bowles '25. The mastodon was saved from falling debris by a steel beam, and some of the mounted bird specimens survived because they were under a balcony. Amazingly, only about a quarter of the collection was destroyed, although among the losses was the skeleton of Tippo Sahib.
When Dennis Hall was completed in 1952, the museum moved into one wing which included storage for specimens not displayed - reflecting a change in philosophy.Articles were used in such a way as to illustrate an idea to the visitor rather than present a confusing jumble of materials.Students began to take a more active role, and from 1952-1955 the staff, which was mostly composed of students, remounted the Randolph Mastodon in the new wing.
Today, in addition to tour work, students curate collections and design new exhibits.