Collections of the strange, the unusual, the bizarre, and the exotic were initially private pursuits, kept by kings and the monied elite.

The 16th-Century's first Cabinets of Wonder (Wunderkammer) were the spiritual ancestors of the first commercial exploitation of humanity's desire to pay to see strange objects, artifacts, and anomalies. This tradition begat the ubiquitous 19th-Century dime museum.

Beginning before Barnum's famed American Museum in Manhattan, dime museums showcased live human entertainment as well as their strange exhibits. The idea of a collection of objects that the public would pay to see spread quickly in early 19th Century America. And by the mid-1800s, the idea had become so popular with the American public that entrepreneurial geniuses like P. T. Barnum became millionaires through the exhibition of vast collections of man-made and natural curiosities.

In their later phases (1910's-1950's) the dime museum transformed the genre into store shows-- i.e. traveling sideshows featuring a few exhibits, set up in store-fronts in many downtown areas of America.

Eventually, capitalizing on the public's need for entertainment of all types, museums came to house not only unique collections of objects; they also housed the first family-oriented performance spaces, the first motion picture exhibits, menageries, and, in fact, nearly every type of entertainment available in 19th Century America. And all for only one dime.