The funds which were required to build the Dick Institute were provided by James Dick, a former Kilmarnock man who was living in Australia. James Dick was born 1823 in Soulis Street, Kilmarnock.
The Dick Institute was opened in 1901. The building was severely damaged by fire only eight years after it opened. Some of the museum's collections were lost in the fire. It reopened two years after the fire in 1911. The Dick Institute was used as an auxiliary hospital in 1917 during World War I.