The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area of London, in the United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection numbers some 8 million works, and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire, and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It is the first national public museum in the world.
The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. It first opened to the public on 15 January 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of expanding British colonisation and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) – now the Natural History Museum – in 1881.
In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.
Its ownership of some of its most famous objects originating in other countries is disputed and remains the subject of international controversy, most notably in the case of the Parthenon Marbles.