Historically, the Museum was a legacy of the great Centennial Exposition of 1876 held in Fairmount Park. In March 1873, an act of the Pennsylvania State Legislature set in motion plans for the construction of Memorial Hall—a permanent building to be designed by Hermann J. Schwarzmann—which was to serve as the art gallery of the exposition. At the conclusion of the Centennial celebrations, Memorial Hall was to remain open as a Museum of Art and Industry "for the improvement and enjoyment of the people of the Commonwealth."
In 1876, the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (as it was originally titled) was chartered with a goal of establishing "a Museum of Art, in all its branches and technical application, and with a special view to the development of the art and textile industries of the state." The founders envisioned a museum along the lines of the recently completed South Kensington Museum in London (today known as the Victoria and Albert Museum), but different in having an active school as a close adjunct—where creative craftsmen could be trained for the growing industries of the United States.
On May 10, 1877, exactly one year after the inauguration of the Centennial Exposition, Memorial Hall reopened as a permanent museum. The Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art opened on December 17, 1877, in a separate location at 312 North Broad Street, with an entering class of 100 students. The school's growing enrollment necessitated a series of moves over the next 15 years to larger quarters, until finally on September 10, 1893, classes opened in a new building at Broad and Pine Streets designed by John Haviland in the Greek Revival style. All students received instruction in drawing, painting, and modeling, with specialized courses in textiles, furniture design, pottery, wood carving, metalwork, and other crafts.
In 1938, the name of the joint institution was changed to the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art. In 1949, the textile school became independent and moved to its current quarters in East Falls, where it is known as the Philadelphia University. Upon the reorganization of the Museum in 1964, the school at Broad and Pine became an independent educational institution known as the Philadelphia College of Art. In 1987, it joined with the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts to become The University of the Arts, which still occupies the Haviland building (now Dorrance Hamilton Hall) on Broad Street.