Mann S. Valentine, Jr., the museum’s founder, made his fortune with the creation and production of Valentine’s Meat Juice, a health tonic made from pure beef juice. As did many men of his era, Mann collected artifacts. His collection may have begun, as rumored, with a cigar box filled with arrowheads, but it soon grew to comprise hundreds of objects. The Valentine Museum, the first private museum in the City of Richmond, opened in 1898; Edward Valentine served as its first president from its opening until his death in 1930. In his own will, he left an incredible collection of his sculpture, papers, furniture and memorabilia to the museum that still bears his family name.
Over time, the institution has evolved from a general art and history museum to one focusing on the life and history of Richmond, Virginia. The Richmond History Center offers major changing exhibitions, which focus on American urban and social history, costumes, decorative arts and architecture. A comprehensive program of exhibitions, tours, special events, research opportunities, school programs, and other public programs engage visitors in an ongoing dialogue about the significance and relevance of the city's history.