The United States National Museum:
A&I Building, engraving
Arts and Industries Building, first known as the United States National Museum

A&I Building Commission
A&I Building Commission
Baird became Secretary of the Smithsonian after Henry's death in 1878. At the helm of the Institution Baird carefully watched over the construction of his new museum, stone by stone. His building committee included General Montgomery C. Meigs, General William Tecumseh Sherman, a Smithsonian Regent and chair of the committee, and Peter Parker. The building was designed by architects Adolph Cluss and Rudolph Schulz. When the National Museum opened in 1881, it was the fulfillment of the dream Baird had penned to George Perkins Marsh so many years before.

Engraving of President Garfield's Inaugural Ball
President Garfield's Inaugural Ball
The first event to take place in the new National Museum Building was the Inaugural Ball for President James Garfield and Vice President Chester A. Arthur on March 4, 1881. A temporary wooden floor was laid, two electric lights were placed in the Rotunda, 10,000 bins for hats and coats were erected, 3,000 gas lights were installed, and festive buntings, state flags and seals decorated the halls. A colossal "Statue of America" stood in the Rotundia, illustrative of peace, justice and liberty, grasping in her uplifted hand an electric light "indicative of the skill, genius, progress, and civilization" of America in the 19th century.

The museum opened to the public in October of 1881. It contained 80,000 square feet of exhibit space with specially designed mahogany exhibit cases. The exhibit halls contained exhibits on geology, metallurgy, zoology, medicine, anthropology, art, history and technologies such as ceramics, printing, transportation, textiles, fisheries, and agriculture.

Fisheries Exhibit
Seals on Exhibit
Fisheries Exhibit
Seals on Exhibit

After Baird was appointed in Secretary in 1878, he relied heavily on
George Brown Goode
George Brown Goode
George Brown Goode (1851-1896) to develop the National Museum. The consummate museum man, Goode's areas of expertise included ichthyology and history. He created a Division of Arts and Industries and Materia Medica in 1881. To Goode and his colleagues, objects were a window to the past. Curator Otis T. Mason wrote, ". . .the people of the world have left their history most fully recorded in the works of their hands." Goode arranged the collections according to a system of classification of his own devising, and he displayed objects in didactic exhibits. Smithsonian exhibits appeared at almost every late nineteenth century exposition, often winning awards as they showcased the National Museum and taught visitors about their history and natural world.


Baird was able to garner Congressional and popular support
Western Union Telegraph Expedition
Western Union Telegraph Expedition
by demonstrating the value of his collections. In 1866 he had testified before Congress about the value of natural resources in Alaska. Although called "Seward's folly," Baird showed that Alaska possessed a wide range of natural resources, far beyond the value of the asking price. He could point to the large collections from Alaska amassed on such expeditions as the Western Union Telegraph Expedition, 1865-1867. The intrepid young explorers he mentored, such as Robert Kennicott and William Healey Dall, went out on these expeditions and amassed vast collections which served both scientific and economic purposes.

Engraving of Visitors to A&I
Visitors in A&I

The United States National Museum quickly became a popular attraction for local residents and tourists alike. Visitors from across the country came to see exhibits on Colonial life, Native American cultures, spectacular dinosaurs, the fine taxidermy of William Temple Hornaday, relics from the heroes of the American Revolution and displays of America's most advanced technology. Visitors from Europe found displays of art, history, and science that rivalled their own scientific and cultural centers. The new National Museum soon began to play an important role in creating a national identity for the young nation.



TAKE A TOUR OF THE SMITHSONIAN'S MUSEUM IN 1886
Visit the Smithsonian in 1886, see the giant squid in the Castle, see dinosaurs and George Washington's uniform on display in the new museum building (now the Arts and Industries Building), and get to know the staff in the late nineteenth century.

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