Predecessors of the National Technical Museum can be seen in collecting activities of the Professional Engineering School (established in 1717), Prague Technical University (1806) and Czech Industrial Museum (1873). Some of their collections are now in our Museum.
The National Technical Museum itself was established in 1908 under the name Technical Museum of the Czech Kingdom with a modern programme of documentation of principal development trends of technical progress, evaluation of their benefits to the society, and preserving representative samples of this development for future generations.
All these are the activities through which the National Technical Museum has been, since its founding, contributing to understanding the character and sense of modern civilization. The National Technical Museum was established with the initiative and funds of Czech technical intelligentsia, in particular of the team of professors of the Technical University.
It was managed and funded by the Technical Museum Association the members of which were well known factories and banks. The Association was creating a wide members' base diversified into professional groups presided over by renowned Czech industry personalities. As early as in 1910, the Association made the first collections accessible to the public (in the Schwarzenberg palace at Hradcany).
Until 1935, it collected, through sophisticated financial policy, the funds for construction of a new (present) building, that was realized in 1938–1942. However, this building was confiscated by the German nazi authorities and the Museum found its refuge in unsuitable premises of the Prague Invalidovna.
After the War, the Museum received back only a part of the whole building and only recently the National Technical Museum has been getting back the remaining premises that have been in its ownership. In 1951, the Museum was nationalized and the institution received its present name. Subsequently, the Association was dissolved, linkages with industry were broken.
The National Technical Museum became a museum and scientific institution with a nation-wide range of action. The state subsidies have enabled to rise the number of employees and to put money into new exhibitions. In the years before 1989, the Museum succeeded in increasing its importance as a research and editorial institution for the history of sciences and technology, as well as in presenting itself through successful foreign exhibitions.
In this way, it rose the awareness of itself in many European countries. Today, the National Technical Museum has a status of the central museum of the Czech Republic and the scientific institution with the documentation, presentation, methodological, and information functions. The basis of its activities are the collections that have been created as the nation's memory.
The building of the National Technical Museum at Letna is one of the most successful examples of a modern museum building in the Czech Republic. The decision on its construction was made in 1921 and the dream came nearer to reality after less than thirteen years.
A special building fund was created and in February 1935 the Board of Ministers granted its approval with the construction of a common building of the Agriculture and Technical Museums. In March 1935, a public architectonic competition for layout sketches of the common building of both museums was drawn up and in June 1935 a narrower competition was drawn up for the authors of five awarded designs – F.Fencl, M.Babuska, F.Sramek, R.Vichra a F.Tesar. The winner of this narrower competition was prof. dr. arch. Milan Babuska.
On the basis of later requirements of the Prague municipality and an agreement of both museums, the common building was divided into two independent parts separated by a newly created Museum street. The participation of prof. Babuska in designing both buildings was a guarantee of their uniform expression even in details.
The construction of the Technical Museum was commenced in the autumn 1938 and its shell construction was completed in the late 1941. However, as early as in the form of a shell construction the building was rendered up by force to the protectoral Ministry of Post that made in it modifications according to its – non-museum – needs.
The building was designed in the style of later functionalism in a strongly classic-like conception where a particular contribution comes from the symmetry of its parts as well as the whole, axial composition of main entries with emphasized vertical prism pillars, application of the most classical material – stone – for facing the pedestal and the external staircases, and suppression of horizontality of days.
The symmetrical four-storey body of the Technical Museum, a structural triple-aisle of the wide U shape with two basements, the load-bearing structure of which is formed by a monolithic ferro-concrete frame, encircles a uniquely designed exhibition space where the permanent exhibition of transport is now situated.
Its galleries, staircases and construction details are designed with the original ship-like aesthetics of functionalism. Up to now, the building exterior looks well preserved thanks to quality of material used. Even though the interiors were since the beginning insensitively modified by imposed occupants, the character has been preserved till now in the main staircase and the entrance hall on the ground floor where, according to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, a pantheon of Czech scientists, inventors and engineers was contemplated.
After the War, a part of collections and professional departments moved to the new building. After the World War II, several designs of the Museum extension on the non-built-up eastern part of the Museum plot were elaborated, however, they have never more been organized in the form of a public competition. The last forty years was the period filled with a permanent struggle against imposed renters.
The situation has only improved during the recent four years when vacated rooms are gradually occupied not only by respective departments but mainly by new exhibition areas and, most recently, by the Media library. The artistic, architectonic and city-planning qualities of the building are recognized by its including into the official list of cultural monuments.
Today, the National Technical Museum has a status of the central museum of the Czech Republic and the scientific institution with the documentation, presentation, methodological, and information functions. The basis of its activities are the collections that have been created as the nation's memory.
They amount about 58,000 filing items (comprising several times as high the number of individual objects), majority of them being stored in depositories on about 13,000 m2 because 15% only of the collection objects are shown in permanent exhibitions. The collections include such unique objects as astronomical instruments from the 16th century used by Tycho Brahe, the first Czechoslovak car, some of the oldest daguerrotypies in the world and many other unique items.
The scope of collections and difficulties associated with the care of them can be documented by about 100 railway vehicles owned and partially operated by the National Technical Museum. The collections also encompass a large archive of history of technology and industry including 3,500 running metres of archival items and the library with about 250,000 books.
The collections, archival items and and book funds are not only presented to the public on permanent and temporary exhibitions but also through educational and professional programmes; the publication activity of the Museum is oriented in this direction.
Národní technické muzeum
170 78 Praha 7
Tel.: +420 220 399 111
Fax: +420 220 399 200
E-mail: info [AT] ntm.cz