The Union Pacific Railroad, which supported the programs to make Nebraska the educational and cultural center of the West, was instrumental in the establishment of the Academy.
Samual Aughey, first professor of science at the University of Nebraska and first Director of the University Museum, was the Academy's first president.
The Academy was reorganized in Lincoln in 1890-91. In 1895, ecological and environmental studies were begun at the University of Nebraska, and various Academy members were pioneers in these studies, which were especially important during and after the droughts of the 1890s and 1930s. Ecology and environment continue to be emphasized in the Academy's programs.
The Academy is classified as a 501(c)(3) Private Foundation. Donations are tax deductible. The Academy is not a state agency, and is not sponsored by a particular university, college, or other Nebraska educational organization.NAS Constitution