Owen was the prime mover behind the construction of the Natural History Museum, a project that occupied him for over two decades. His On the Extent and Aims of a National Museum of Natural History, containing the text of his lecture delivered before the Royal Institution in April 1861, was part of his long campaign to obtain political backing for the South Kensington Museum.
After Owen's appointment as superintendent of the Natural History department of the British Museum in 1856, dissatisfied with the cramped and disorganized confines of the existing British Museum (located in Bloomsbury), Owen began lobbying for a "separate but unified national museum of natural history . . . to represent the three kingdoms of nature" (Rupke, p. 34), to be housed in a building spacious enough to display even the largest specimens of both living and fossil species. The project did not really get off the ground until October 1861, when "manipulated future Prime Minster Gladstone into the opinion that the current exhibition facilities for the Natural History Department of the British Museum were inadequate for their task. Owen cultivated Gladstone's support in order to bring the issue before Parliament once the Trustees of the British Museum fell into agreement with his extravagant plans for building not just more display space, but an entirely new building to house the natural history collection (Johnson-Roehr, "The Natural History Museum-London" [internet reference]).
After much heated debate, Owen's plan was approved and the South Kensington museum, designed by Albert Waterhouse, began construction in 1873. The building was completed by late 1879, and the museum opened its doors to the public in 1881. The social and cultural impact of Owen's Natural History Museum cannot be overestimated: Bill Bryson, in his Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), stated that "by making the Natural History Museum an institution for everyone, Owen transformed our expectations of what museums are for" (p. 81).
Digital facsimile from Google Books at this link.