On 15 September 2023, we celebrated 40 years since opening on a site of significant global importance in the heart of Manchester.
We enter our fifth decade while undergoing a multi-million-pound regeneration project. Critical repair works are making significant improvements to our buildings and revealing new spaces and perspectives for all visitors to enjoy, play and learn in. Although this means some of our galleries are temporarily closed, there is still plenty to do, see and discover.
Whether it's uncovering objects from our collection, testing your own ingenuity through hands-on experiments and activities, or exploring the ideas and people who change the world, discover 40 of the highlights and hidden gems that are available to explore everyday while we undergo our regeneration to create a world-class museum for the future.
See amazing objects from our world-class collection and experience inspiring shows and demonstrations.
In 1948, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine, nicknamed 'Baby', was the first computer to store and run a program from memory. The original Baby computer was built at the University of Manchester, while our life-sized replica was built in 1998, using vintage electronic components and with guidance from the original designers. The original no longer exists, having been taken apart for different elements to be used in later computers, so this is the closest people can get to an important piece of computing history, which took place right here in Manchester.
2. Manchester's Rolls-Royce
The Rolls-Royce motor company started life in Manchester. It is the result of a remarkable partnership between Henry Royce, an expert engineer, and Charles Rolls, a motorcar pioneer. Built in Hulme, Manchester, in 1905, this is one of the earliest Rolls-Royce motorcars, and was Henry Royce's own vehicle. It is believed he used it to carry out his duties as a Captain in the Motor Volunteer Corps, before he sold it to an automobile enthusiast, Paris Singer, in 1906.
3. The Granada G
Once glowing red on the Manchester skyline, this iconic letter G was part of the signage on Granada TV's Quay Street building, not far from the museum. Coronation Street, first aired by the independent television channel in 1960, is now the world's longest-running soap opera.
4. Workers' wage tins (1850–1900)
Workers at Liverpool Road Station collected their hard-earned weekly wages in small tins, on display in the Revolution Manchester gallery.
5. Sticky tape dispenser
An ordinary sticky tape dispenser played an important role in a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough in materials science. Used by a team led by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester, the tape was pivotal in isolating graphene, the first single-layer material ever discovered.
6. Waters Acquity Qda mass spectrometer
Scientists and engineers at Waters created this mass spectrometer to help people across different industries analyse substances. The machine is so compact that scientists from Waters were able to carry it up Ben Nevis to raise money for charity.
7. Whitworth screw
Two hundred years ago, Manchester's ambitious engineers laid the foundations for a new age of mass production. Accurate measuring, precision tools and interchangeable parts helped build the machines that drove the Industrial Revolution. In 1840, Joseph Whitworth introduced a standard screw thread, making parts for machines interchangeable and mass production possible.
8. See an Explainer show
Join the museum's expert Explainers for action-packed shows that tells the story of how science met industry right here in Manchester, building our world and shaping our lives today. Celebrate the museum's 40th anniversary with a special birthday sing-a-long.
9. Water frame, Richard Arkwright, around 1775
Created by Richard Arkwright in the 1700s, this water-powered spinning machine started a textiles revolution and transformed the way people worked. It ran day and night in Arkwright's cotton mills. The moving rollers thinned out the cotton and the rotating spindles twisted it into yarn, meaning manufacturers could make more fabric more cheaply than ever before. Instead of spinning at home, people now worked long, repetitive and exhausting days in the mills looking after the machines.
10. Child's clogs, around 1870
These tiny clogs were lent to children whose families couldn't afford to buy them. Cotton shortages or low demand for cloth meant work in Manchester's cotton mills was never guaranteed. If workers had to go without wages, many struggled to afford food, clothes and shelter.
11. Ribbon loom with Jacquard head, T.F. Wilkinson Ltd, Coventry, 1900
At the top of the ribbon loom is a programming system. Cards with small, punched holes programmed the loom to weave different designs, making patterned cloth easier and cheaper to produce. The punch card system inspired the invention of the earliest computers.
12. Electric time recorder, 1930
This Gledhill-Brook Time Recorder was used at Mather and Platt's factory at Park Works, Newton Heath. It allowed the factory workers to mark when their shift started (clocking in) and ended (clocking out). The factory had at least 30 of these clocks to keep track of workers' shifts across its 17 bays. This particular time recorder was used by the new apprentices in the factory.
13. Trademark shippers' tickets, around 1880–1960
Manchester cotton merchants attached trademarks with colourful, detailed designs onto the cloths they sold. Textiles companies employed artists to design images they thought would appeal to their customers.
14. Brass ear trumpet, Around 1850
Before hearing aids, people used ear trumpets to help them hear better. Thundering machines made the mill a deafening place to work. Without ear protection, many workers experienced hearing loss.
15. Coins, 1799 and 1806
A collection of coins was hidden in an Ancoats mill during its construction. Now they are on display in our Textiles Gallery. People often concealed money with the belief it would bring luck or wealth.
This pioneering loom monitoring system was invented in Lancashire in the early 1970s and it broke new ground in how we use computers to gather data and make decisions, giving manufacturers around the world the power to make better business decisions and increase productivity. Today, factories across the world use production monitoring systems descended from Dextralog's ideas.
17. Model cotton gin, W. Jamieson, Manchester, around 1860
The invention on the cotton gin in 1793 resulted in million more enslaved people being forced to grow cotton in the USA. The mechanisms made it easier to clean cotton on the plantations where it grew, speeding up the cotton process and increasing the demand for enslaved labour to plant and pick it.
18. Weavers Wanted! Textiles demonstration
Travel back in time to the working mills of 150 years ago in our textiles demonstrations. Experience the thundering sounds of the machinery and find out what life was like for thousands of mill workers.
Get hands-on with experiments in our interactive gallery, test your creativity through craft and join in the conversation.
19. Spin and swirl
Spin the dome and make patterns swirl. What planet do you think this popular interactive looks like?
20. Bicycle Bones
Sit on the chair and start pedaling to see a skeleton!
21. Lift a Mini
Learn about forces and see if you can move an actual car with just one hand.
Little ones can play and explore in their own way in this space designed special for 0-4.
23. Shadow stories
Can you tell a story with shadows? Practise your shadow puppets and learn all about light.
24. Shake hands
Step up to the mirror and shake hands with yourself to find out more about reflection.
25. Heat vision
Hot or cold? Check out the thermal camera that senses heat instead of light.
26. Steady hands
Trace the shapes and move the wand over the wire without setting off the buzzer!
27. Silent sound
Move around in waves of sound and make music with your body.
28. Musical pipes
Hit the pipes with the paddle to play your own tune.
29. Chat to our expert volunteers
Learn more about our highlight objects by talking to our fantastic team of volunteers.
30. Conversation Space
Have your say in the Conversation Space. Take a closer look at our changing displays, enjoy regular craft activities and share your thoughts using our pegboards!
Reveal amazing objects and uncover the people and ideas that changed the world.
31. Tony Wilson
In 1978, Tony Wilson co-founded influential independent Manchester record label Factory Records with Alan Erasmus.
Through Factory Records, he launched the careers of some of the city's most influential bands, including Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays.
32. Madeline Linford
The successful career of trailblazing journalist Madeline Linford helped pave the way for today's female journalists. Linford started work as an assistant in the Manchester Guardian's advertising department in 1913 and went on to be the Guardian's first ever female editor in 1922.
33. Isabel Hardwich
Isabel Hardwich was an electrical engineer and physicist who worked at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park. She campaigned tirelessly to encourage more women to follow careers in science and engineering, challenging the widely-held but inaccurate beliefs held at the time, that woman didn't have the skills for these jobs.
34. Cost of cotton
Enslaved people forced to grow cotton on plantations in the southern United States met Manchester's demand for plentiful and affordable cotton. The city's wealth and success depended on this system of human exploitation.
35. Curiosity Stop
Our Expert Explainers are on hand to ignite curiosity and reveal wonder during a series of short conversations that unravel some fun scientific secrets. Witness impressive scientific party tricks to try at home.
36. Spotlight talk
Hear about our historic site and buildings, discover more about Manchester's motoring heritage and explore the role of women in the age of Enlightenment in one of three illuminating Spotlight Talks led by our Highlights volunteers.
37. Baby demonstration
Witness a trailblazing piece of computer history at work! Watch as our expert Baby volunteers run a programme on this 17-foot-long early computer, and hear how it relates to the phones, tablets and consoles we’re familiar with today.
38. Planting stories
For almost 150 years, Liverpool Road Station was a bustling hub of people, animals and machines, keeping produce, raw materials and finished goods moving in and out of the industrial city, and connecting Manchester with the world. Explore our beautiful garden to uncover more about the stories of our historic site.
39. Special Exhibitions Gallery
Our newest permanent gallery is a spectacular space that originates and hosts some of the world's best science exhibitions and experiences in the North. Don't forget to check out what the latest exhibition is! It is currently hosting world-first exhibition, Operation Ouch! Food, Poo and You, which takes you on a deep dive through the digestive system.
40. Changing highlights gallery
Don't forget to check out what's on offer inside the 'Changing Highlights' section of the Revolution Manchester gallery. Currently on display is an incredible collection of objects from Professor Stephen Hawking's office, giving an an insight into the working life and personality of the world-renowned theoretical physicist.
...And a bonus thing to see
Don't forget to check out our biggest object of all—our seven-acre, globally significant site!
The museum is situated on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station, in the heart of the world's first industrial city. As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester and the industrial heritage buildings the museum now inhabits were the catalyst for scientific innovation and unprecedented change worldwide.
Step inside our Grade II listed New Warehouse, which was constructed in 1880 following an expansion of Liverpool Road Station (the Manchester terminus of the pioneering Liverpool to Manchester Railway); spend time in our historic Upper Yard to observe the work taking place to conserve Power Hall, which was built in 1855 as a shipping shed for the station; and pause on Floor 1 for views across to the 1830 Station, the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world, and 1830 Warehouse, the world's first purpose-built railway warehouse.
Many of these buildings are being conserved, repaired and improved through our ongoing regeneration project, creating improved gallery experiences, indoor and outdoor spaces and an environmentally sustainable museum for everyone to enjoy into the future.