Te Wai Orea (waters of the eel) is the Māori name for Western Springs. Farmer William Motions bought the land from local Māori. By the 1870s, the growing city of Auckland needed a reliable water supply. The springs were dammed to form a lake, and in 1877 the Pumphouse was built.
In the 20th century it was replaced by other water sources, and the land put to new uses, including a campground and quarry (with the Pumphouse as a council works depot). In 1961 the Auckland City Council established a park by the lake, and land and building were offered to a group of transport and aeronautical enthusiasts to form a museum.
MOTAT opened in 1964. Volunteers have worked to support operations from the beginning. Since the passing of the MOTAT Act in 2000, MOTAT has also been able to employ professional museum staff to aid development. Since opening it has been explored and enjoyed by millions of local, national and international visitors. It is an interactive museum with a focus on creating a fun, visually stimulating environment for its visitors.
The Pumphouse, with its magnificent Beam Engine has had extensive conservation to ensure its significance in Auckland's history is preserved.