Among the forerunners of the National Technical Museum (NTM), we can rank the collecting activities of the professional engineering school (founded in 1717 in Prague), continued by the polytechnical institute (founded in 1806) and finally the opening of the Czech industrial museum, founded by Vojtěch Náprstek in 1874. Parts of his collections were even transferred to today’s NTM later in the 20th century. Its true beginning sprang from the founding meeting July 5th, 1908 (see below). It initially carried the name “Technical Museum of the Czech Kingdom” with the defined program of documenting the principal directions of technological and industrial development in Czech lands with respect to foreign countries, using collected manufactured goods, machines and transportation assets.
The NTM was born from an initiative of technical intelligence, primarily professors of Czech technical universities in Prague. It was organized as an association and operated under the name “Association of the Technical Museum of the Czech Kingdom”, whose members were not only individuals, but also companies, industrial enterprises, banks and professional corporations, like sugar refineries. The association was divided into professional groups according to individual industrial lines, like mining, metallurgy, construction, transportation, sugar refining, textile manufacturing, glassworks and others.
September 28th, 1910 the Technical Museum opened its first public exposition in the Schwarzenberg palace next to the Prague Castle. After the birth of the Czechoslovakian Republic in 1918 it acquired a new name – The Czechoslovakian Technical Museum. Thanks to public collections, gifts and financial assistance from the state, the means were gathered to construct a new museum building on Letná. Winner of the architectonic competition was a design by Milan Babuška (see History of the Building). Construction commenced in 1938 and was finished in 1941, still under the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and immediately seized by the occupying administration for the postal ministry. At the same time, the collections of the Technical Museum, renamed the Czech technical Museum in 1939, had to be removed from the Schwarzenberg palace and moved to a temporary site in Invalidovna in Karlín, in which there were initially some small expositions, but in 1944, all museum activity was halted.
After the war, in 1945, the building on Letná was with great difficulty re-acquired for museum purposes. Part of the process was not completed until 1948, when the first exhibits and expositions were opened – cycling, film and broadcast. However, at least one third of the building continued to serve other institutions up until 1990.
In 1951 the museum was nationalized and received today’s name of National Technical Museum. Activity of the Association was greatly reduced and in 1959 was halted completely. The NTM became a museum and scientific workplace, directed and financed by the state. The number of employees rose from 20 to 90, later to 130, and new expositions were opened in the building on Letná – transportation, mining, metallurgy, astronomy, geodesy, electrotechnology, machining, time measurement, photography and film technology. The NTM presented itself with numerous exhibitions at home and abroad, along with in-house scientific research and publications. The scope and value of its collections ranks the museum among the leading institutions of its kind in Europe.
Under the new democratic conditions in 1990, the government transferred the entire building on Letná to the museum’s use. This allowed the opening of another exposition on telecommunication and several new halls for temporary exhibits. In 2002, part of the museum’s archives and collections in Invalidovná in Karlín were damaged by floods. Dealing with the consequences of this catastrophe consumed much of the decade, but some parts of the collections were ruined. One of the post-flood activities was finally preparing a modern depository in Čelákovice, and in 2003, a major reconstruction of the main museum building on Letná was begun. The primary goal was to return the building to its former state, as designed by the architect Babuška. In 2011, the second phase of the reconstruction was completed and in February, the first five expositions were triumphantly opened – transportation, architecture and construction, astronomy, printing and photographic techniques. In October 2013 the renovation of the National Technical Museum was completed. The museum now presents centuries of ingeniousness in 14 permanent expositions.