The museum was established on the 1st of May 1951 and it consisted in just four rooms on the first floor of the building in No. 1, Crinului Street. Nonetheless, attempts at developing a museum had been made before: in 1880, the Museum Association in Sălaj was created and a museum in Zalău was established with help from the Sălaj department of ASTRA (the Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Culture for the Romanian People). The museum, in activity in 1926, ceased to function in 1940 and the exhibits were lost.
In 1951, Vasile Lucăcel was appointed director of the new institution, located in No. 1, Crinului Street. He began to collect pieces and organise the permanent exhibition, opened for the public in August 1952. The current building was given to the museum in 1969, when the new permanent exhibition was organised between three departments: Ancient History, Folk Art and Fine Arts. The new location comprised four different buildings, one of them, the street front wing, being the oldest, dating from the 19th century. The museum opened its exhibitions in August 1971 and did not undergo important changes until 1986. The museum’s space has grown gradually. Fine arts moved to a new location, in the former building of the National Bank. The Art department was established in 1981, thanks to the donation made by the master painter Ioan Sima, born in Pericei, Sălaj County. The new Art Gallery later received his name.
Nowadays, the museum has expanded greatly and both the permanent and temporary exhibitions were modernised to include as much as possible of the local and national history. The permanent exhibition is divided between two separate departments and buildings: the „Vasile Lucăcel” History Department and the „Ioan Sima” Art Gallery. The museum’s collections include pieces representative for the fields of archaeology (the Guruslău hoard, Bronze Age pottery, Dacian pottery from Buciumi; artefacts from the Roman camp of Porolissum – Moigrad, epigraphic and sculptural material exhibited in the inner courtyard Lapidarium); history: tools, weapons, documents; ethnography and folk art (textiles, costumes, thick long coats, doublets, icons); entomology (Lepidoptera and Coleoptera) and a library (9,000 vols.). The museum also owns artefacts listed in the National Cultural Heritage Treasures.
The exhibitions were recently reorganised to be more interactive for the general public, especially focusing on the younger groups of visitors. The museum is thus interpreted as a means of educating the young. The thoroughly crafted dioramas of historic ages, together with the artefacts exhibited in a more visually accessible manner following the example of great European museums, certainly make a visit to the County Museum of History and Art in Zalău an enjoyable experience for the whole family.