National Air and Space Museum and Udvar-Hazy Center

Independence Avenue View of NASM, by Unknown, 1976, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-2462.
Independence Avenue View of NASM
Air and Space Building, South Yard, by Unknown, c. 1920s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10653.
Air and Space Building, South Yard
Spirit of St. Louis in the United States National Museum, by Unknown, 1930s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-12192.
Spirit of St. Louis in the United States National Museum
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Under Construction, by Unknown, October 2002, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2011-0511.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Under Construction

Chinese Kites Acquired for Display, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 11442 or NHB-11442.The National Air Museum was created as a separate bureau of the Smithsonian Institution by an act of Congress on August 12, 1946. Twenty years later, its name was changed to the National Air and Space Museum as part of a congressional act authorizing a separate building to house its collections, which opened to the public on July 1, 1976.

Historical Origins

Wright Flyer in A&I, by Unknown, 1950s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-19574.The Air and Space Museum 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 first housed in the Arts and Industries Building, then after World War I expanded to a Quonset hut in the South Yard known as the National Air Museum, and after World War II, outdoors along "Rocket Row." Additional storage was secured in 1952 at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland. 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 occurred in 1971.

Developments Since the 1970s

Interior View of the Aircraft Building, South Yard, by Unknown, 1950s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10654.Construction of New National Air and Space Museum, by Neufeld, Harry B, 1973, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 73-10771-21A.The new museum, featuring a Tennessee marble exterior, was designed by the architects Hellmuth, Obata, + Kassabaum. 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 dimensions of the building are 635 feet in length, 225 feet in width, and 82 feet, 9 inches in height, with some 161,145 square feet of exhibition floor space. 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 American Bicentennial celebration. Notable museum collections include the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Winnie Mae, Apollo 11 command module Columbia, and a lunar rock. 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 National Air and Space Museum Archives was created.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Under Construction, by Unknown, October 2002, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2011-0511.On December 17, 2003, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum opened near Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia. Also designed by architects Hellmuth, Obata, + Kassabaum, when the Udvar-Hazy Center’s sections are completed the building will total 760,000 square feet. The extension allows the display of many more and larger air and space artifacts, including the space shuttle Enterprise and a Concorde airliner.

Further Exploration

Related Collections

Other Resources

Today in Smithsonian History

Installing Kermit the Frog Puppet at LA Convention Center, by Talman, Hugh, 1996, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-702-19 or 96-702.19.

February 9, 1996

The America's Smithsonian exhibition opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It is the first stop on national tour of the exhibition celebrating the Smithsonian's 150th anniversary.More

Did you know...

That Robert Goddard, rocket pioneer, was funded by a grant from the Smithsonian in 1917 that was crucial to his program to develop the world’s first liquid-fueled rockets?

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