History of the Museum
What began as one mans passion for metalcraft and tales of chivalry has today become the only dedicated museum of armor in the western hemisphere, housing one of the few significant collections of knightly armor outside of Europe. The founder, John Woodman Higgins, a prominent Worcester industrialist during the early 1900s, spent a lifetime building his collection. In 1929 he began construction of a five-story building to house it, and in 1931 the John Woodman Higgins Armory opened its doors to the public.
The art-deco building, which the museum still occupies today, was one of the first all steel and glass curtain-wall structures built in America; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Inside the museums Great Hall, high ceilings and gothic arches are reminiscent of a medieval castle and offer a powerful setting for the museums collection.
The collection, some 4000 pieces in all, includes major examples of arms and armor from medieval and Renaissance Europe, Ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Japan. On display are two dozen full suits of armor for battle, jousting, and courtly ceremony, in addition to swords, staff weapons, firearms, and artwork from the age of knightly armor. The American Association of Museums in its most recent reaccreditation report described the museum as “a place of national significance … with superb collections.”
Upon Higgins death in 1961 the museum was given to the public but remained under the direction of the Higgins family. In 1979 the museum was entrusted to a public governing board. The new Board of Trustees refined its original mission statement, hired its first executive director, and set out to establish the institution as a presence in the museum world.
Open year round, the museum attracts more than 58,000 visitors annually from every corner of the globe. Approximately 12,000 of these visitors are school children from throughout Massachusetts and the New England region whose annual visits here are part of their regular social studies or science curriculum. The outreach program of the museums education department reaches another 4,000 people in five states. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the museum hosts a variety of special exhibits throughout the year and conducts an ongoing series of special programs, symposia, demonstrations of falconry and period swordplay. The museums Academy of the Sword is a global leader in researching and teaching medieval and Renaissance swordplay, publishing groundbreaking translations of original treatises and offering classes for adults and juniors taught by some of the worlds most important specialists in the field.
The museums unique collection has a proven power to open minds and excite learning. The Higgins education department fosters learning and discovery through interactive participation and personal, meaningful connections with the objects and the people, cultures, and legends they represent. The education team works closely with educators at all academic levels to provide programs that enliven the social studies, humanities and science curricula of local and regional schools and colleges.