Erwin H. Barbour served as director of the Nebraska State museum for decades, and can be credited with creating support for the Museum's current location, Morrill Hall.
E.H. Barbour was born in Springfield, Indiana, and completed his undergraduate studies at Miami University in Ohio. After his prepatory studies, he continued his education at Yale, completing his Ph.D. in 1887. While studying at Yale, Barbour learned from James Dwight Dana, who was at the time a leading American geologist and zoologist. Barbour aided in some of Dana's publications during his time at Yale. Barbour also worked on the U.S. Palaeontological Survey while studying to obtain his Ph.D., which gave him a firm grasp on field work early on in his career.
After graduating from Yale, Barbour soon married Margaret Lamson, although the young couple often had to endure long periods of separation due to Barbour's field work on the U.S. Geological Survey. He worked for the Survey for two years, before accepting a position of professor of natural history and geology at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. He remained in Iowa until 1891, when he took a position as professor of geology and zoology at the University of Nebraska.
Barbour described his first view of the Nebraska campus as interesting. "At that time the campus looked more like a cow pasture than a seat of learning, as it was not an uncommon sight to see a few contented cows from the town herd wandering across it." When Barbour arrived, the university consisted of four fairly homely buildings: University Hall, Nebraska Hall, Chemistry Hall, and Grant Memorial Hall. Still, Barbour enthusiastically took to the University of Nebraska. Upon learning that there was a nearly non-existant geology collection to use as teaching materials, Barbour took it upon himself to gather collections of minerals and fossils in the summers of 1891 and 1892, almost entirely financed out of his own pocket. These collections became a foundation on which he would later build the museum.
When Charles H. Morrill discovered that Barbour had unearthed excellent specimens, and was paying for the excavations himself, he promptly offered to finance further expeditions, and encouraged Barbour to build a more extensive collection so that later the university could establish a proper museum. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between Barbour and Morrill. Morrill continued to finance yearly expeditions for fossil and mineral collections until his death in 1927.