In 2018, the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas, welcomed more than 550,000 visitors through its doors, hosted 452 education programs, and installed 695 artifacts. We look at the museum’s history, as well as the priceless collections that draw visitors from all over Texas and beyond.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum opened in 2001.
It was built to tell the story of the State of Texas, from its early beginnings to the present day.
Officials named the museum in honor of Bob Bullock.
The 38th lieutenant governor of Texas famously championed local causes, spearheading campaigns to preserve and exhibit local history. Throughout his 40-year political career, Bullock shaped the Texas government, campaigning for finance and election law reform, championing voting rights for 18-year-olds, and petitioning for improvements in education funding as well as the health and juvenile justice systems.
Bullock’s tenure as comptroller of public accounts lasted for 16 years (1975-1991), and was distinguished by several key advancements. He transformed the agency, serving as the first elected official to adopt an equal opportunity program, leading to the employment and promotion of record numbers of women and people from ethnic minorities.
Bob Bullock served as lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1999. His bipartisan approach united long-divided legislators, bringing consensus on critical issues.
A Texas state history aficionado himself, Bullock presented the idea of opening a museum of state history in 1995. Officials secured funding and planning approval by 1997. Bullock was guest of honor at the groundbreaking ceremony in 1999, though, sadly, he died in June of the same year, before construction of the museum was completed.
The museum’s first-floor gallery spans 16,000 years of Texas history, up to 1821.
The first-floor gallery houses the immersive, hands-on exhibition Becoming Texas, allowing visitors unique insight into the beginnings of the State of Texas. Here, visitors can learn about men and women who played pivotal roles in establishing trade networks throughout the Americas. They can see original tools, weapons, jewelry, and imagery depicting early American Indian civilizations who first cultivated the lands now known as Texas.
Visitors can pull back an authentic bow, firing an imaginary arrow, experiencing for themselves the strength required to put food on the table in days gone by. Meanwhile, exhibits include early maps of North America, heavy Spanish leather armor, weapons, and gold recovered from a Spanish treasure fleet that sank in 1554.
The first-floor gallery also tells the story of French explorer La Salle and his failed attempt to establish a French colony in the Gulf of Mexico in 1684. Visitors can inspect the remains of his 300-year-old sailing ship, La Belle, which excavators raised from the sea bed just off Texas. The exhibit features thousands of artifacts recovered from the ship’s hull, from trade goods and navigational tools to weapons, including a bronze cannon.
The second-floor gallery explores state history between 1821 and 1936.
This floor is devoted to the personal stories of key figures who shaped the State of Texas. Immersive exhibits depict the fall of the Alamo and tell the story of how Texas transitioned from independent nation to 28th state in the Union.
The second-floor gallery also recounts stories of American Texans of African descent and their struggles with racism, segregation, enslavement, and oppression.
Since their arrival in the 1500s, the African American community, both enslaved and free, played a major role in the settlement and advancement of Texas.
The exhibition documents the 11-year revolutionary war, which culminated in Mexico gaining independence from Spain in 1821. Though slavery was outlawed under Mexican rule afterward, special consideration was given to Anglo settlers, leading to the continued growth of the enslaved population of Texas. There were more than 5,000 enslaved people living in Texas by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1835. It was not until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 that African American Texans gained their freedom.
The exhibit also covers national Reconstruction, with prominent African American politicians coming to the fore. Matthew Gaines petitioned for prison reform and public education bills, while George T. Ruby introduced resolutions to protect African American voters. Both men played pivotal roles in advancing African American rights as part of the Texas Legislature.
The third-floor gallery covers 20th-century Texas.
The 1900s were an important stage in Texan history, as it marked the state’s emergence on the national stage. From cattle ranching, to oil drilling, to the Space Race, Texas repeatedly took center stage throughout the 20th century.
Exhibits include an AT-6 “Texan,” the flight trainer airplane used in World War II to train Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), as well as an oil field tool invented by Howard Hughes and an original NASA Mission Control console dating back to the 1960s.
The Bullock Museum is open seven days a week.
Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.