Histories of the Smithsonian Institution's
Museums and Research Centers


The Smithsonian Institution Building, popularly known as the "Castle," was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., and completed in 1855. The building is constructed of red sandstone from Seneca Creek, Maryland, in the Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs). Over the years several reconstructions have taken place. The first followed a disastrous fire on January 24, 1865, which destroyed the upper story of the main segment and the north and south towers. In 1883, the east wing was fireproofed and enlarged to accommodate more offices. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited.

The building served as a home for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry and his family. Until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices, lectures halls, exhibit halls (which remained until the 1960s), a library and reading room, chemical laboratories, storage areas for specimens, and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists. In 1901, Washington's first children's museum was installed in the Castle's South Tower Room where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in 1987. Today, the Castle houses the Institution's administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. Located inside the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall a bronze statue of Joseph Henry, executed by William Wetmore Story, honors the eminent scientist who was the Institution's first Secretary.

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The Arts and Industries Building was the first building created solely to house the United States National Museum. The Museum had previously been housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building. After the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia many of its displays were donated to the Smithsonian, and some of the proceeds from the Exposition were used to build a new museum building. After an architectural competition, the Board of Regents selected the architectural firm of Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze for the new building. Smithsonian Secretary Spencer F. Baird, General Montgomery C. Meigs, General William T. Sherman, and Congressman Peter Parker composed the National Museum Building Commission which oversaw the project. General Meigs, a civil engineer educated at West Point, supervised the structural system and conducted a study of public museums in Europe.

On April 17, 1879, ground was broken for the new museum building. The foundations and main walls were completed during the first year of construction. By the end of 1880 the roof had been completed and parts of the building were already in use by Smithsonian Institution staff. The first event held in the new building, before the exhibits were installed, was the inaugural ball of President James Abram Garfield and Vice President Chester A. Arthur on March 4, 1881. The United States National Museum opened to the public in October 1881. Initially the ground floor was completely devoted to exhibits. The mahogany exhibit cases were used as the partitions between 17 separate exhibits there. A wide range of exhibits were on display including geology; metallurgy; zoology, which was known for its quality of taxidermy and animal exhibits; Comparative Technology, a study of everything made or consumed by mankind; navigation; architecture; musical instruments; and historic relics, which included the personal effects of George Washington.

The National Museum Building was renamed the Arts and Industries Building in 1910 when the natural history collections were moved to the newly completed Museum of Natural History across the Mall. At the end of World War II, the small collection of airplanes in the Arts and Industries Building and in the aircraft building in the South Yard received status as a separate museum, when the National Air Museum (now the National Air and Space Museum) was established on 12 August 1946. In 1964 the remaining Arts and Industries Collection was moved to the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History), and the National Air Museum took over the rest of the building. The Air Museum remained in the building until its own building opened in 1976. The Arts and Industries Building was closed from 1974 to 1976 for renovation and reopened with the exhibit, "1876: A Centennial Exhibition," which displayed many of the original objects from the Centennial in the building built to house them.

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The Anacostia Community Museum grew out of an idea that was first discussed at a conference on museums and education sponsored by the Smithsonian in August 1966. Soon thereafter, Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley formed a committee to plan "an experimental store-front museum" in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood. In March 1967, the Smithsonian secured the Carver Theater in Anacostia as the site for the project.

Anacostia community leaders formed an advisory council to guide the venture and build local support. In June 1967 the Institution appointed John R. Kinard as Director of the Museum, a position he held until his death in 1989. Smithsonian staff cooperated with local citizens to convert the theater into an exhibition space, and to select objects for display. The theater was renamed the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, and opened to the public on September 15, 1967. The Museum relied largely on special grants for support until 1970, when it became a line item in the Institution's federal budget.

In October 1974, the Exhibit Branch of the Museum moved into the new Exhibits Design and Production Laboratory in Fort Stanton Park. This facility served as the core for a larger museum building that was completed in 1987. The new structure, located at 1901 Fort Place, S.E., was large enough to accommodate all the functions of the Museum in one location for the first time.

The Museum implemented an acquisition program in 1977 and first used original artifacts in the 1979 exhibition "Out of Africa: From West African Kingdoms to Colonization." Other exhibitions have examined such subjects as urban problems, the history of Anacostia, African American art and heritage, and African culture. In April 1987 the Museum changed its name to the Anacostia Museum to reflect the Museum's increased mandate to examine, preserve, and interpret African American history and culture, not only locally and regionally, but nationally and internationally as well. In 1995 the Museum was renamed Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture. After the Smithsonian launched its new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum was renamed Anacostia Community Museum.

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Folklife presentation, education, and research began at the Smithsonian Institution in 1967 with the first annual Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall. The festival features performers, crafts people and community groups from the United States and foreign countries. The festival usually focuses on a single state, an occupational group, and a foreign culture. The Festival was started at the Smithsonian by Ralph C. Rinzler (1934-1994), a folklorist as well as a musician, scholar and advocate of grassroots folk expression in the United States. Originally part of the Smithsonian’s Division of Performing Arts, a separate Office of Folklife Programs was created in 1980, renamed the Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies in 1992.

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The National Air Museum (NAM) was created as a separate bureau of the Smithsonian Institution by an Act of Congress on 12 August 1946. Twenty years later, its name was changed to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) as part of a congressional act authorizing a separate building to house its collections, which opened to the public on July 1, 1976.

The NASM collection dates back to the closing of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia when the Smithsonian received a group of kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission. In 1889, the Stringfellow engine became the first object accessioned into the collection. The collections of the Museum were housed in the Arts and Industries Building, in a shed in the south yard known as the "Air and Space Building" and outdoors in "Rocket Row." The beginning of the conquest of space in the 1950s and 1960s helped to drive the renaming of the Air Museum to the National Air and Space Museum, and finally congressional passage of appropriations for the construction of the new Museum in 1971.

After the groundbreaking ceremony held in November 1972, work on the new building proceeded on two fronts—the actual construction of the building, and work by the staff on two dozen exhibition halls. The staff moved into the Museum in 1975 and completed preparations for the July 1, 1976 opening, part of the Smithsonian's contribution to the Bicentennial celebration. During the 1980s, the Museum began to focus more directly on its research component. Fellowships were established in the curatorial departments, outreach in the form of lectures and other public programs increased, and the NASM Archives was created.

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The history of the National Museum of American History's (NMAH) collections dates from the very beginning of the Institution, when Secretary Joseph Henry amassed a collection of scientific apparatus for historical and demonstration purposes. In 1849 the Institution made a major purchase of fine arts prints, which became the core of the graphic arts collections. In 1858 and 1862 the National Institute, which was housed in the United States Patent Office, transferred to the Smithsonian the national collections, which included specimens from the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. In 1858 the United States National Museum was formally established. After the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian received many objects from exhibitors. Thus by the 1880s, rich collections from many different sources had come to the Smithsonian.

In 1881 the historical collections received a home in the new National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Building. When the new museum building (now the National Museum of Natural History) opened in 1911, the art and natural history collections were transferred, leaving only the history collecion in the Arts and Industries Building. The history collections included philately, numismatics, political and military memorabilia, costumes, furnishings, technology, medicine, textiles, graphic arts, photography, objects of everyday life, ceramics, glass, and musical instruments.

The creation of the Museum of History and Technology (MHT) within USNM on July 1, 1957, gathered the historical collections under one museum. Frank A. Taylor was appointed Director of MHT on April 16, 1958 and was primarily responsible for the planning and supervision of the construction of the museum building, which opened in 1964. USNM ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967, and at that time the National Museum of History and Technology became a separate museum within the Institution.

On October 13, 1980, President Carter signed a bill authorizing the Museum's name change to the National Museum of American History (NMAH). In 1990, the NMAH's National Philatelic Collection became the National Postal Museum; it moved into the newly renovated Washington City Post Office in 1993.

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The National Postal Museum showcases one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic materials in the world. The Museum grew out of the National Philatelic Collection which was established at the Smithsonian Institution in 1886 with the donation of a sheet of 10-cent Confederate postage stamps. Generous gifts from individuals and foreign governments, transfers from government agencies and occasional purchases have increased the collection to today's total of more than 16 million items. From 1908 until 1963, the collection was housed in the Arts and Industries Building, and in 1964 the collection moved to the National Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History. There the collection expanded to include postal history and stamp production.

The National Postal Museum was established in 1990 under an agreement between the Smithsonian and the United States Postal Service. The Museum moved to its new location, the lower level of the former Washington City Post Office Building on Capital Hill at First and Massachusetts Avenue, in 1993. In addition to stamps the Museum also collects postal stationary, postal history material that pre-dates stamps, vehicles used to transport the mail, mailboxes, meters, greeting cards, covers, and letters.

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The Cooper-Hewitt Museum was established in 1896 as the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. Its parent organization, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, was founded in 1859 by Peter Cooper as a free school for the working classes of New York City. In his original plans for Cooper Union, Peter Cooper made provisions for a museum, but these plans were not immediately carried out.

In 1895, Peter Cooper's granddaughters, Eleanor Garnier Hewitt, Sarah Cooper Hewitt, and Amy Hewitt Green, asked the trustees of the Cooper Union for room in which to install a Museum for the Arts of Decoration, modeled after the Musee des Artes Decoratifs of Paris. The purpose of the museum was to provide the art students of Cooper Union, students of design, and working designers with study collections of the decorative arts. The trustees assigned the fourth floor of the Cooper Union's Foundation Building to the sisters, and the Museum was opened to the public in 1897.

Until the death of Sarah Cooper Hewitt, the management of the Museum was essentially in the hands of the Hewitt sisters as Directors. Following Sarah's death in 1930, the trustees of the Cooper Union appointed a board of four Directors, with Constance P. Hare as chair, to administer the Museum. When Edwin S. Burdell became Director of the Cooper Union in 1938, the Museum was made part of his administrative responsibility, the Board of Directors was abolished, and an Advisory Council on the Museum, responsible for matters relating to the Museum's collections, was established.

In 1963, the Cooper Union considered the discontinuation of the Museum because of the financial demands of the other divisions of the Union and the absence of a close relationship between the programs of the Museum and the Art School. The announcement of the plans led to a considerable public outcry, and a Committee to Save the Cooper Union Museum, headed by Henry F. duPont, was formed. With the help of a study on the future of the Museum, prepared by a committee of the American Association of Museums, negotiations took place among the Committee, the Cooper Union, and the Smithsonian Institution leading to the Museum's transfer to the Smithsonian on July 1, 1968. The Museum was renamed the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design at the time of the transfer and became the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in 1969. In 1970, the Museum moved into its present home, the Carnegie Mansion, which was renovated and reopened to the public in 1976. The museum was renamed the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1994.

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The Freer Gallery of Art (FGA) was conceived by its founder, Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), as a museum and a research institution. A railroad-car manufacturer from Detroit, Freer collected more than 9,420 art objects and manuscripts before his death, including one of the largest collections of works by James McNeill Whistler; works by contemporary American artists including Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Dwight William Tryon, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens; and major collections of Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Indian objects. In 1904, Freer informally proposed to President Theodore Roosevelt that he give to the nation his art collection, funds to construct a building, and an endowment fund to provide for the study and acquisition of "very fine examples of Oriental, Egyptian, and Near Eastern fine arts." The gift was accepted on behalf of the government by the Smithsonian Board of Regents in 1906. Freer’s will, however, contained certain requirements that only objects from the permanent collection can be exhibited in the gallery, and that none of the art can be exhibited elsewhere. Freer felt strongly that all of the museum’s holding should be readily accessible to scholars at all times. Construction of a building to house the collection began in 1916 and was completed in 1921. On May 9, 1923, the FGA was opened to the public. The Gallery is an Italian Renaissance-style building of Massachusetts granite and Tennessee marble. The building was designed by American architect and landscape planner Charles A. Platt (1861-1933).

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was founded in 1982 when Dr. Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), a New York research physician, publisher, and art connoisseur, donated approximately one thousand masterworks of Asian art and funds to construct a building to the Smithsonian Institution. Since the museum opened in 1987 the Sackler collection has expanded to include the Vever Collection, an important collection of the Islamic arts of the book from the 11th to the 19th century; 19th and 20th century Japanese prints and contemporary porcelain; Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean paintings; arts of village India; contemporary Chinese ceramics; and photography. The Sackler Gallery also compensates for the limits of Freer’s will by providing space for important loan exhibitions of Asian and Near Eastern art.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery forms a part of the Quadrangle Complex behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. The complex also houses the National Museum of African Art and the S. Dillon Ripley International Center. The uniqueness of the complex is that 96% of it resides underground with the Enid A. Haupt Victorian Garden on its roof. The complex was designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian of the Boston firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott. The museum complex opened to the pubic on September 28, 1987.

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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was a gift to the nation from the financier and avid collector of modern art, Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981). Hirshhorn began his collecting with prints in 1917, and it became his lifelong passion. Hirshhorn's collection is best known for its nineteenth and twentieth century sculpture, including the works of Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore. He also collected widely and enthusiastically from the works of contemporary American painters, including, Thomas Eakins, Willem de Kooning, Raphael Soyer, and Larry Rivers.

Hirshhorn had long planned to keep his collection together in a museum so that its art could be accessible and give others the pleasure it had given him. Because of the strength of the collection, many museums throughout the United States and around the world courted Hirshhorn with offers of a museum and support for his holdings. Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley very much wanted to see a museum of contemporary art in Washington, which had no significant contemporary museum at the time. Ripley worked to persuade Hirshhorn that he should choose Washington and the Smithsonian from among many competitors for his art. In this effort he had the powerful assistance of President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, who enthusiastically wooed Hirshhorn over several years. Finally in 1966 Hirshhorn announced that he would give his entire collection to the Smithsonian, to be housed in a museum named for him and constructed on the Mall by the federal government. The initial gift numbered more than 6,000 pieces of art, and Hirshhorn bequeathed the Museum an additional 6,000 items and an endowment of five million dollars at his death.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened to the public in October 1974 under the direction of Abram Lerner, who had been appointed in 1967 after curating Hirshhorn's personal collection in New York and advising him on art purchases since 1955.

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In 1964 a privately-funded Museum of African Art (MAA) was established by Warren H. Robbins, a former American foreign service officer, at the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C. Robbins served as first Director of MAA, which mounted exhibitions of traditional African artwork and developed educational programs to foster public insight and appreciation of the cultures and artistic achievements of Africa. When MAA became a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution on August 13, 1979, its collections included some eight thousand objects of African sculpture, costumes, textiles, musical instruments, and jewelry; numerous books on African culture and history; early maps of Africa; educational materials; and photographs, slides, and film segments on African art, society, and environment bequeathed to the Museum by world-renowned photographer Eliot Elisofon. In 1981 MAA was renamed the National Museum of African Art.

The National Museum of African Art is now located in the Quadrangle Complex behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. The complex also houses the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the S. Dillon Ripley International Center. The uniqueness of the complex is that 96% of it resides underground with the Enid A. Haupt Victorian Garden on its roof. The complex was designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian of the Boston firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott. The museum complex opened to the pubic on September 28, 1987.

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The history of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) collection dates to the beginning of the Smithsonian Institution when, in 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian authorized the Board of Regents to collect objects of art. Called the Gallery of Art, the collection included prints and drawings collected by George P. Marsh and North American Indian portraits and paintings by John Mix Stanley and Charles B. King. Portions of the collection were transferred from the National Institute, housed in the United States Patent Office Building, in 1858 and 1862. In 1865, a fire in the Smithsonian Institution Building destroyed a sizable portion of the collection. The surviving prints and drawings were loaned temporarily to the Library of Congress, while the paintings and sculptures were sent to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. These deposits were recalled in 1895. In 1879 the George C. Catlin collection of Indian paintings was acquired.

In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt recommended to Congress that the art collection contemplated in the act creating the Smithsonian be established as a national gallery of art and that the Institution be authorized to accept additions to the collection. Congress failed to take action on the recommendation. In 1906, the Gallery of Art achieved official status when the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, interpreting the Smithsonian's organic act, defined the Gallery of Art to be in fact the National Gallery of Art. The Harriet Lane Johnston collection, donated to the Smithsonian in 1906, and the William T. Evans collection, donated in 1907, formed the nucleus for the new Gallery.

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) was administered by the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1907 until 1920, when Congress granted the Gallery enough funds to become a separate Smithsonian bureau. William Henry Holmes, Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1909, and Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology, 1910-1920, held the position of Curator of the National Gallery of Art, 1907-1920. When NGA became a separate bureau in 1920, Holmes resigned his position with the USNM and became the first Director of the Gallery. In 1937, the National Gallery of Art had its name changed to the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA), when the old name was assigned to the collection donated by Andrew W. Mellon to the United States. In 1980, NCFA was renamed the National Museum of American Art (NMAA), and in 2000 it was renamed the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).

The NMAA collection has had many homes. Before 1906, the Gallery exhibited its collection in the Art Room of the Smithsonian Building Library. Between 1907 and 1909 the collection was divided between the Arts and Industries Building and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1910, the collection was consolidated and moved to a hall in the newly constructed Natural History Building where, in March of that year, the Gallery opened the first exhibition to be staged in the building. In 1924 and again in 1939 architectural plans for the Gallery were drawn up, but funds were never appropriated for a building. In 1968, the collection was moved to the old Patent Office Building which was renamed the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries. In 1972, NCFA gained additional gallery space with the acquisition of the Renwick Gallery. The Renwick is located in the old Corcoran Gallery of Art Building which was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr, who also designed the Smithsonian's "Castle." The Renwick Gallery is devoted to American crafts. In 1981, the FA & PG Building was renamed the American Art and Portrait Galleries.

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In 1919 interested citizens began active lobbying for a national portrait gallery. That year the Smithsonian Institution, through its National Gallery of Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Federation of Arts, and the American Mission to Negotiate Peace, endorsed the National Art Commission. Its purpose was to commission American artists to create a pictorial record of World War I through portraits of leaders of America and the Allied Nations. The result was twenty portraits which went on exhibit in the Natural History Building in May 1921 and again in 1923 after traveling in exhibitions throughout the United States. These portraits formed an early nucleus for what became the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection. Starting 1921 the National Gallery of Art Commission regularly discussed the not-yet-official National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and accepted donations of portraits for its future opening.

Congress officially established the National Portrait Gallery in 1962 as a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, "a free and public museum for the exhibition and study of portraiture and statuary depicting men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States, and of the artists who created such portraiture and statuary."

The Smithsonian Board of Regents appointed the first NPG Commission in 1963 which defined two main objectives for the Gallery based on its congressional mandate: acquisition and exhibition of portraits and statuary of those who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the United States; and establishment of the Gallery as a research center for American biography, iconography, and history. To carry out the first objective, the Commission established guidelines for accepting portraits: the best likeness possible; original portraits from life, if possible; and exhibitions of permanent collection portraits of subjects who have been dead for at least ten years, as well as Presidents and First Ladies. The standards for accepting portraits thus vary considerably from those for other galleries. In every instance, the historical significance of the subject is judged before the artistic merit of the portrait or the prominence of the artist is considered. In the 1960s and 1970s, NPG initiated several programs to carry out its second objective, providing a research center for American biography, iconography, and history, by establishing the Catalog of American Portraits and the Charles Willson Peale Papers.

In 1976 the Congress increased the Museum's ability to add to its collections when it passed an act allowing it to collect portraits in all media, most notably photography. In 1981, 5,419 glass negatives from the Matthew Brady Studio were acquired as a group from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection.

For many years the nucleus of the NPG collections was stored with and shown by the National Collection of Fine Arts wherever that bureau was housed. The first official NPG exhibition was shown in 1965 in the Arts and Industries Building. NPG moved from the Arts and Industries Building in 1967 to its present quarters in the old Patent Office Building. The building was renamed the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries in 1968, and NPG officially opened to the public on October 7, 1968. The building was renamed the American Art and Portrait Galleries in 1981.

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The history of the National Museum of Natural History's collections begins with specimens collected by the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, and transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1858. The Smithsonian also received specimens by gift or purchase in the late 1840s. In 1850 the newly appointed Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird donated his personal natural history collection to the Institution. During the 1850s and 1860s several expeditions which explored the American West also sent specimens to the Institution. The United States National Museum was formally created in 1858. The collections were initially housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building. They were moved to the newly constructed National Museum Building (now the Arts and Industries Building) in 1881.

In 1911 the collections were moved to a new building (now the National Museum of Natural History) devoted to natural history and anthropology. In the 1950s and 1960s the Exhibits Modernization Program systematically updated the exhibits in the museum. During the 1960's, wings were added to the east and west sides of the building to accomidate expanding collections and staff.

In 1957, the USNM created two administrative subdivisions: the Museum of Natural History (MNH) and the Museum of History and Technology. The USNM was eliminated as an administrative entity in 1967, and MNH became a separate administrative unit. In 1969, the Museum was renamed National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

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Originally conceived by Samuel P. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian 1887-1906, as a place in which to house endangered species and to conduct research, the National Zoological Park (NZP) was established by an Act of Congress in 1889. A National Zoological Park Commission, comprised of the Secretary of the Interior, the President of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was formed under the Act to select and purchase land for the National Zoo. One hundred and sixty-six acres in the valley of Rock Creek, located in northwest Washington, D.C., were eventually purchased for the Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect, was consulted to design of the landscape and the location of the buildings.

The financial burden of the NZP was to be shared by Congress and the District of Columbia, a fact which altered Langley's vision, enlarging his purpose to one of securing a wide variety of species for the enjoyment of the District's residents. In 1890, Congress passed another Act which placed the National Zoological Park under the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian to administer the Park and to receive and care for the animals "for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people."

The first inhabitants of the Zoo were the 185 animals under the care of William Temple Hornaday, Curator of Living Animals, United States National Museum, that had been sheltered by fences behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. Among the animals were buffalo, a black bear, wood chucks, a panther, a grizzly gear cub, a Carolina black bear, a bald eagle, turkey vultures, and black snakes. These animals had been shipped to Washington to be used as Hornaday's taxidermy models. Previously, those which had not been killed and preserved for the mammal collection had been shipped to the Philadelphia Zoo.

The early history of the NZP was marked by the demands for building construction, park layout and roads, and acquisition of animals—all on an extremely tight budget. Despite these difficulties, the Park and its animal collections began to take shape. In 1891, Dunk and Gold Dust, the Zoo's first elephants, and French, the first lion, arrived. Between 1916 and 1924 the NZP continued to operate on modest appropriations. As a result, few new animals were purchased, and housing for existing animals remained inadequate. However, the popularity of the Park continued to grow, and in 1924, 2.4 million people visited the Zoo.

In 1925, William M. Mann, entomologist at the Department of Agriculture, became the fifth NZP Superintendent. The title of the NZP head administrator was changed in 1926 to that of Director, and Mann held that position until his retirement in 1956. Several major collecting expeditions helped add to the NZP animal stock during the era of the Great Depression and World War II. Included were the Smithsonian-Chrysler Fund Expedition to Tanganyika, 1926; the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the East Indies, 1937; and the Smithsonian-Firestone Expedition to Liberia, 1940. Mann's tenure also witnessed the construction of new animal houses and support buildings, including several which were built by the Public Works Administration, a New Deal relief program.

After Mann retired in 1956, the Zoo veterinarian, Theodore H. Reed, was appointed Director in 1958 and remained in the position until 1983. Under Reed's direction the NZP and its programs evolved rapidly. A 1962 master plan led to a series of phased renovation and construction projects. The Education-Administration Building, 1977; the William M. Mann Memorial Lion-Tiger Exhibit, 1976; and Beaver Valley, 1979, were just a few of the projects completed during Reed's tenure. The NZP benefited considerably by the creation of the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) in 1958. Originally concerned with capital improvements and modernization, the focus of FONZ activities changed to education by the mid-1960s. Several important animal acquisitions were made during the period, notably the white tigress, Mohini, in 1960, the gift of a pair of Komodo dragons from the government of Indonesia in 1964, and the arrival of a pair of giant pandas from the People's Republic of China in 1972. Programs in scientific research and conservation were developed under Reed. A Scientific Research Department was created in the mid-1960s to conduct studies on animal behavior, reproduction, and breeding. In 1975, the General Services Administration transferred over 3,000 acres of land in Front Royal, Virginia, to the Smithsonian Institution to establish the NZP's Conservation and Research Center (CRC). The goal of CRC is to conduct research on and to develop breeding programs for endangered and exotic species.

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Established on 1 March 1890 by Secretary Samuel P. Langley, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) was one of the earliest to practice the "new astronomy," or astrophysics. Originally housed in a shed behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Observatory initially focused its research on the study of solar radiation and the solar constant—the amount of energy from the sun that strikes the outer edge of the earth's atmosphere. Langley was Director of the Observatory until his death in 1906. Charles G. Abbot, who came to SAO in 1895 as an assistant, was appointed Director in 1907. Under Abbot's direction several solar observing stations were established in the United States, South America, and Africa to carry out research on solar radiation. Upon Abbot's retirement in 1944, Loyal B. Aldrich was appointed Director of SAO.

In 1955, the Smithsonian and Harvard University joined in an agreement to conduct astrophysical research, and the scientific headquarters of SAO was moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fred Lawrence Whipple, Chairman of the Astronomy Department at Harvard, was named Director, replacing Aldrich who retired. The move to Cambridge and a close alliance with the Harvard College Observatory generated an expansion of the SAO research program. Contributions to the national space program were made by optical tracking of satellites at SAO stations around the world. Orbiting astronomical observatory experiments, meteoritical and cometary studies, and theoretical astrophysics investigations were also undertaken. A major SAO observatory located at Mount Hopkins, Arizona, was opened in 1968. The Multiple-Mirror Telescope, a joint project of SAO and the University of Arizona, was dedicated at Mount Hopkins in 1979. The Mount Hopkins Observatory was renamed the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in 1981.

In 1973, the Smithsonian and Harvard University established at Cambridge the Center for Astrophysics (CFA) to coordinate the related research activities of SAO and the Harvard College Observatory under a single director. The consolidated CFA research program was organized into seven divisions: Atomic and Molecular Physics, High Energy Astrophysics, Optical and Infrared Astronomy, Planetary Sciences, Radio and Geoastronomy, Solar and Stellar Physics, and Theoretical Astrophysics. Major SAO studies in hydrogen masers, submillimeter wavelength interferometers, and infrared telescopes were undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s.

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The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) was established on July 1, 1983, when the Radiation Biology Laboratory was merged with the Chesapeake Bay Center for Environmental Studies.

The history of the Radiation Biology Laboratory (RBL) can be traced to May 1, 1929, when the Division of Radiation and Organisms was established by Secretary Charles G. Abbot. Initially funded mostly by the Research Corporation, the Division's purpose was to undertake investigations of the effect of solar radiation on living organisms. In 1941, the Division was administratively placed under the Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory.

On February 16, 1965, the Division of Radiation and Organisms was abolished. Its work was continued by the newly established Radiation Biology Laboratory (RBL), an independent Smithsonian bureau reporting to the Assistant Secretary for Science. The research program at RBL was three-pronged—regulatory biology, or how sunlight regulates growth and development of biological organisms; solar radiation measurements; and carbon dating of samples submitted by Smithsonian and outside scientists. In 1970, RBL relocated from the old Astrophysical Observatory buildings in the south yard of the Smithsonian Institution Building to facilities in Rockville, Maryland.

The Chesapeake Bay Center for Field Biology (CBCFB) was created on July 1, 1965, to conduct research and promote education in ecosystem biology. CBCFB was established at Java Farm, a 368-acre tract of land located seven miles south of Annapolis, Maryland, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Java Farm was bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution by Robert Lee Forest in 1962. Adjoining property was purchased with funds contributed by private foundations, and the Center's site eventually grew to 2,400 acres including 14 miles of shoreline on the Rhode River.

In 1969,the CBCFB changed is name to the Chesapeake Bay Center for Environmental Studies (CBCES), and it was placed under the administration of the newly created Office of Environmental Sciences. CBCES became an independent Smithsonian bureau in 1973, reporting to the Assistant Secretary for Science.

In February 1966, the Smithsonian joined in an agreement with the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland to collaborate in biological research and education at CBCFB. In 1971, the three institutions joined with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences to form the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC) to "foster and facilitate research germane to the region of the Chesapeake Bay." CBCES became a major component of the CRC research program.

The RBL and CBCES were merged in to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in 1983. The mission of SERC is to continue basic research with the goals of measuring physical, chemical, and biological interactions in environmental settings. Operations of SERC were conducted at two sites—the old RBL laboratory at Rockville, Maryland, and the former CBCES facilities at Edgewater, Maryland. The Rockville laboratory closed on November 22, 1986, and all SERC activities were relocated to Edgewater.

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In 1923 the Institute for Research in Tropical America, a group of private foundations and universities under the auspices of the National Research Council, first established a research laboratory on Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal Zone, in order to investigate the flora and fauna of tropical America. It was called the Canal Zone Biological Area (CZBA). In 1940 an act of Congress placed the facility under control of a board composed of the heads of certain executive departments and prominent scientists. In 1946 the operation was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution and was dedicated to conducting long-term studies in tropical biology. In 1966 it was renamed the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and expanded its scope by extending its research to other areas in the tropics, and by establishing a marine sciences program with laboratories on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Panama. In 1974, these broader research interests were legally recognized by the Government of the Republic of Panama and were later included in the Panama Canal treaty of 1977. In 1985, the Government of Panama granted the Institute status as an International Mission in order to further facilitate its mission.

Today, research is conducted throughout the Isthmus at terrestrial and marine field stations equipped with modern laboratories and dormitory facilities. Central offices are located at the Earl S. Tupper Center in Panama City, which opened in 1990. The first directors of the Canal Zone Biological Area research station in Panama were James Zetek and Karl Koford. In 1957, Martin Moynihan began the expansion of STRI into other habitats in Panama and other tropical countries and into related fields, such as ethology and anthropology. Under the direction of Ira Rubinoff from 1973 onwards, STRI has continued to expand its work in the tropics, and now conducts research throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa.

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