A Look Back on 40 Years at Discovery Gateway

2018 marks the Museum’s 40th anniversary as an organization! To celebrate Discovery Gateway’s 40th birthday, here is a look back on our history from the very beginning.

In 1978, inspired by the Boston Children’s Museum, founder Paulette Stevens and her husband saw a need for a place with fun and engaging activities for families and children in Utah. With this vision in mind, the two began organizing a board of directors, volunteer staff, focus groups of children, and a Children’s Museum Guild to support and develop ideas for a children’s museum in Utah.

Two years later, in 1980, while looking for a special home for the children’s museum, Paulette saw the potential in the empty Wasatch Springs building. With the help of then-mayor Ted Wilson, architect Joe Linton, and Councilwoman Barbara Petty (of the Marmalade District), the Salt Lake City Council decided to allow the Children’s Museum of Utah to use the building for $1 per year, however a large amount of money would need to be raised to begin to develop programs, build exhibits, and hire staff.

From 1980 to 1983, educators, parents, and community leaders worked diligently in raising capital for the construction of Utah’s first hands-on museum. In 1983, after years of fundraising, The Children’s Museum of Utah (TCMU) opened in the Wasatch Warm Springs building at 840 North 300 West with 12,000 sq. ft of exhibit space. The first exhibits included a Delta 727 cockpit, a saber tooth tiger skeleton, computers, a medical discovery exhibit, a sight and sound exhibit, and a traveling exhibit from the Holography Museum of New York.

With the opening of The Children’s Museum of Utah, it wasn’t long before the museum started to grow. New exhibits, events, fundraisers, and programs were continually being added and museum visitation rapidly began to increase. In 1996, Reaction Time Chemistry outreach program for 5th graders began with 38 schools and taught 2,791 students. Today, Reaction Time has grown to include Potential Energy for kindergartners and together the programs now serve 631 schools and over 74,000 students!

November 5, 2002, was a huge turning point in TCMU’s future development when Salt Lake County residents voted YES on Proposition 2. Voters approved a $15 million county bond on a $30 million project for Proposition 2 that included the development of a new Children’s Museum. On September 2, 2005, construction began on the new location for the children’s museum, located here at The Gateway.

On September 16, 2006, The Children’s Museum of Utah name was officially changed to Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, during the grand opening celebration at The Gateway location! Discovery Gateway’s 444 West 100 South location opened with 6 times more square footage of exhibit space. Thanks to Salt Lake County voters and countless donors, educators, parents and community leaders, Discovery Gateway can continue to achieve its new mission of “inspiring children of all ages to imagine, discover, and connect with their world to make a difference.”

After the grand opening of the new location, Discovery Gateway became a staple in the Salt Lake community. In 2010, Discovery Gateway hosted the 1st annual Bumble Bee Bash fundraiser, hosted our first Autism Day in 2012 sponsored by Autism Council of Utah and Center for Disabilities at USU, and in 2015 celebrated the 1st annual Children’s Festival fundraiser.

In 2016, Discovery Gateway launched a 3-year plan for museum revitalization as we celebrated the 10th anniversary as Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. From 2016 through 2018, Discovery Gateway raised $1.6 million for a Capital Campaign for exhibit and program revitalization. Admission grew by 9% each year with the introduction of two traveling exhibits, Sid the Science Kid, and Children of Hangzhou, as well as seven new or updated interactive exhibits: Block Party, DG Derby: Powered by Gravity, The Reading Nook, Move It!, SkyCycle, Intermountain Life Flight Rescue Hangar, and WaterPlay! Our staff has grown from 45 to more than 70 as the museum grows and improves.

During this time of revitalization, we have also expanded access to our services by launching an after-school enrichment program, an Access membership program for lower-income families, and additional museum free days. We’ve strengthened relationships with the Autism community and became the first children’s museum to be certified sensory inclusive by KultureCity, a non-profit organization dedicated to effecting change for those with sensory needs. The museum’s mission was also updated to “inspiring children of all ages and abilities to imagine, discover, and connect with their world to make a difference.”

“Discovery Gateway will continue the important work of providing educational experiences for everyone in our community, expanding  our reach through new programs, and continuing to update and add new interactive exhibits” Laurie Hopkins, Executive Director.

More than 6.3 million children and families have been served in 40 years and more than 4 million have been since the move to The Gateway 13 years ago. Through the name changes, the relocation, the traveling exhibits which have come and gone, the parents who played at TCMU as children and now take their own children to Discovery Gateway, all the events, fundraisers, students and teachers, staff and volunteers, Discovery Gateway has been committed to discovery, growth, and LEARNING THROUGH PLAY. Cheers to another 40 years!

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