The beginnings date from the Museum of the Mother of Slovakia (1870 - 1875), whose collections he took over. The establishment of the museum was connected with the establishment of the Slovak Museum Society (MSS). Its goal was to save and collect all the important monuments of Slovakia. Thanks to MSS chairman Andrej Kmeť, the first building was built (1906 - 1907), designed by Milan Michal Harminc. The museum was inaugurated in 1908 (In 1994, the building was declared a national cultural monument).
Due to the lack of exhibition space, the idea of building a new SNM building was initiated (1929 - 1932). Its author was also Milan Michal Harminc (1869 - 1964). The realization was completed in 1932, but the installation of all exhibits took a lot of time. The grand opening did not take place until 1938.
Many collections were concentrated in the museum: arts and crafts, fine arts, Slovak national history, archeology, church monuments, numismatics, folk art, written and book collections, monuments of living and inanimate nature. Even in the years 1942 - 1953 also the estate of MR Štefánik.
The museum was nationalized in 1948. In 1961, it was administratively merged with the Slovak Museum in Bratislava. At the same time, the Martin Museum became a central all-Slovak ethnographic museum. That was the reason for redistributing some of the collections to other museums.