Cultures currently consists of two buildings: a one-storey house, U Halánků, with a long and rich history; and a three-storey exhibition building, which acquired its current form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. U Halánků was created in the 16th century by joining three Gothic houses, which Václav Kronín of Drahobejle had rebuilt in the current shape of a burgher’s house. It is named after Jan Halánek, who became its owner in 1676. In the 15th century brewing rights were awarded to the house, and in the 18th century the right to distil wine. The owners brewed beer and made liquors here. In 1826 the house and its trade privileges were bought by the Fingerhuts, who moved here with their children.
Vojta Náprstek, or Adalbert Fingerhut by his real name, was a famous Prague patron, philanthropist, patriot and politician, and also the founder of the museum. In 1848 he left for the United States, ettled in Milwaukee and became interested in the problems of the Native Americans, black slaves and new immigrants. In 1858 he returned to Prague, convinced that the experience he had acquired could be used for the good of the Czech nation.
His first act was to open a public library in the house where his mother ran the lucrative brewery and distillery. He created the library not only as a place to borrow books, but also as a centre where people could meet, discuss and make plans. Gradually it became a political salon frequented by politicians (F. Palacký), writers (J. Neruda, J. V. Sládek, B. Němcová), scientists (J. E. Purkyně, T. G. Masaryk) and artists (A. Dvořák). The first female society, the Ladies‘ American Club, was created here. Participation in the 1862 International Exhibition in London was also initiated here. It inspired Náprstek and other Czech patriots with the idea of founding the Czech Museum of Industry in Prague.
In the end Náprstek founded the museum himself, with the help of his mother‘s general bequest, in 1874. He collected items from literally all around the world, and was a patron of many travellers (E. Holub, J. Kořenský). Travellers‘ donations from non-European areas made his museum a sought-after institution, and in the end these items were much more numerous than the technical exhibits; hence the museum of industry became an ethnographic museum. In 1932 the museum was nationalized and its management was taken over by the National Museum. From 1 January 1943, the Náprstek Museum was made a permanent part of the National Museum.