Exploratorium: Home

Early History

For Immediate Release:
August 27, 2008

Media Available
Jenny Slafkosky (415) 528-4367

Early History

Early History

"The whole point of the Exploratorium is to make it possible for people to believe they can understand the world around them," Frank Oppenheimer said. Oppenheimer, a distinguished experimental physicist and university professor, founded the Exploratorium in San Francisco in 1969 primarily to share his own joy in discovery. His range of experience encompassed both the theoretical and the hands-on, practical side of science, and a knowledge of education and how students learn. Oppenheimer’s three overlapping careers in science reflected his dedication to understanding: he was a brilliant researcher in nuclear and cosmic ray physics, a distinguished teacher and innovator in laboratory instruction, and the creator and guiding genius of the Exploratorium. He was founder and director until his death in 1985.

How Did the Exploratorium Happen?

In 1949, Oppenheimer was forced to resign from his university position as a result of harassment by the House Un-American Activities Committee, this after a distinguished career including having joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, directed by his brother J. Robert Oppenheimer.  For the next ten years he was a cattle rancher in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  Banishment from academic physics did not end his career, as much as it marked the beginning of several new ones. One was being drawn into the local small town high school that had 300 students and one science teacher.  When Oppenheimer returned to University physics in 1959, he also became a central moving force in improving laboratory teaching, developing a "Library of Experiments," in which students could explore physical phenomena. Oppenheimer was invited to do the initial planning for a new branch of the Smithsonian, but he turned it down to work on what he called his "San Francisco project."

He was convinced of the need for public museums of science to supplement science curriculums at all levels.  In 1969, with no publicity or fanfare, the Exploratorium opened its doors to display a few exhibits borrowed from NASA and an exhibit on the aesthetics of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, sprinkled through its home, the cavernous Palace of Fine Arts. Today, the near 100,000 square feet of exhibit space overflows with over 400 Exploratorium-made different exhibits at any given time, as well as special events and programs.  Oppenheimer's insistence on excellence, knack for new ways of looking at things, sense of humor and whimsy, and high respect for invention and play and his own lack of pretentiousness are captured by the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium provides a carefully controlled chaos in which visitors and students freely pick their paths among a subtle and ingeniously devised science curriculum.  Oppenheimer insisted on honesty in exhibit building, an attitude that persists to this day — the exhibits present natural phenomena; they are not rigged to fool the visitor or improve on nature.  The exhibitry, programs, and structure of the Exploratorium develop that spark of intrigue, speculation, and questioning that Oppenheimer recognized as the very essence of learning in both the sciences and the arts.


Hours of Operation & New Evening Hours
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm;  every Thursday evening adults only (ages 18 and up) 6pm-10pm.

$29 for adults, with lower rates for SF Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. Tickets available at the door and advance tickets available online at www.exploratorium.edu/visit/tickets.

Getting Here
The Exploratorium is easily accessible by public transit. Convenient parking is available nearby. For more information, visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit/location-directions

About the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is the global leader in informal learning, igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. The world-renowned science museum creates original, interactive exhibits, on display at more than 1,000 science centers, museums and public spaces around the world. Dedicated to education reform in and out of the classroom, the Exploratorium is a premier professional development center for educators and a creator of award-winning educational resources. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals and everyday doers, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe. On April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium opened at Pier 15 in the heart of San Francisco's Embarcadero, where it will celebrate a new era of experiences that encourage critical thinking and awaken wonder for generations to come. For more information, visit www.exploratorium.edu/visit.

Pier 15
San Francisco
California 94111
(415) 528-4444 telephone

Contact Us:
Jenny Slafkosky (415) 528-4367