One of the largest museums in Amsterdam, the museum offers eight permanent exhibitions and a continuous series of temporary exhibitions, including modern and traditional visual arts and photographic works. The Tropenmuseum is part of the National Museum van Wereldculturen (Dutch Museum of World Cultures), a combination of three ethnographic museums in the Netherlands. Until March 2014, the museum was owned and operated by the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsored the study of tropical cultures around the world. The museum had 176,000 visitors in 2009.
Frederick van Eeden, father of the writer Frederik van Eeden, and secretary of the Maatschappij ter bevordering van Nijverheid (Industry Promotion Society), founded the Koloniaal Museum in Haarlem in 1864 and opened the museum. to the public in 1871. The museum was founded to showcase Dutch possessions abroad and the inhabitants of these foreign countries, such as Indonesia. In 1871, the institute began a survey to increase the profits of the colonies. This included attempting to develop improved means of producing coffee beans, rowan and paraffin. The museum was under the influence of ethnologists, who added information on the economy, manners and customs of the inhabitants. In 1926, they inaugurated the current building in East Amsterdam. At the time, they had 30,000 objects and a considerable collection of photographs.
After Indonesian independence in 1945, the museum’s reach shifted from only the colonial possessions of the Netherlands to that of many undeveloped colonial states in South America, Africa, and Asia. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs encouraged the museum to expand its scope to more social issues such as poverty and hunger. In the early 1970s, a new ward for children was added. This wing is now called Tropenmuseum Junior.
The original building, built in 1926, was designed by J.J. van Nieukerken and M.A. van Nieukerken. It was richly decorated for the time and took 11 years to be built due to World War I and several labor strikes. All the artwork of the building was created in the first half of the 20th century. In 2003, the museum was listed as a historic building in Amsterdam.