National Maritime Museum dates back to 1958 when a Museum’s Friends Association has been established. On the initiative of the Association and the later head of the museum, dr hab. Przemysław Smolarek, in the Dwór Artusa (Arthur’s Court) an exhibition entitled “From a paddle to a nuclear drive” has been opened.
Only two years afterwards, on the 1st of October 1960, an autonomous branch under the name “Maritime Department” has been established at Gdańsk Pomeranian Museum.
On the 1st of January 1962 the department emerged as an independent institution, with its main office located in the Żuraw (Gdańsk Crane). On the 1st of October 1972 the Culture and Science Minister granted it the status of a national institution under a new name – the Polish Maritime Museum. Presently, the Museum reports to the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport, which provides financing and supervision.
The Museum was built from scratch. In its founders’ concept it was planned to be a port and museum facility integrated into the very heart of the old Gdańsk port with other typical port facilities, such as the Żuraw, the Granary on Ołowianka island, quays and ships.
However, 45 years ago Ołowianka island was in ruins and only the Żuraw was rebuilt after the war demolitions, which is why the main Museum’s site was located there.
Simultaneously, the Museum was pursuing its development concept by expanding and acquiring new facilities. In June 1963 its first external department was established – the Lighthouse Museum in the Rozewie Lighthouse (since 1964 managed by the Museum’s Friends Association), and further external departments followed: in 1972 the Fishery Museum on Hel Peninsula; in 1977 the building adjacent to the Żuraw, transformed from a boiler-house into a museum department named Skład Kolonialny (Colonial Collection); in 1984 Vistula River Museum in Tczew and the grand “Dar Pomorza” in Gdynia, one of the most beautiful sailing boats in the world.
In 1989 further exposition rooms were made available to the public: “Panna” (Maiden), “Miedź” (Copper) and “Oliwski” on Ołowianka Island, where, since 2000, after the granaries “Mała and Duża Dąbrowa” were built, the main site of the Museum has been located.
Since the summer of 1989 a ship-museum s.s. Sołdek, the first ocean-going ship built in the Gdańsk shipyard after the Second World War, has been docked at the island’s quay.
In April 2012 the newest branch, Maritime Culture Centre, located in a place of former Colonial Collection, was opened for the visitors.
On the 10th of December 2013 Ministry of Culture and National Heritage changed the name of the museum to National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk.
The first director and also one of the founders and initiators of National Maritime Museum was dr hab. Przemysław Smolarek, who remained in the office from 1960 until his death in 1991. The next director was dr hab. Andrzej Zbierski, who retired in 2001. In 2001, dr inż. Jerzy Litwin, was appointed as the director of the Polish Maritime Museum (as museum was named at that time) and held this position for 17 years. On December 12th, 2018, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage appointed dr Robert Domżał as the director of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk.
Visiting the museum facilities located on two opposite sides of the Motława river is expedited by the ferryboat “Motława” departing from below the Żuraw.