Agency history, 1896-

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  • Pilgrim, Dianne H
  • Taylor, Lisa 1933-1991
  • Wunder, Richard P
  • Rohlfing, H. Christian
  • DuPont, Henry Francis 1880-
  • Hathaway, Calvin S
  • Gibson, Mary S. M
  • Peoli, Mary A
  • Burdell, Edwin S
  • Hare, Constance P
  • Green, Amy Hewitt
  • Cooper-Hewitt, Sarah 1859-1930
  • Hewitt, Eleanor Garnier
  • Cooper, Peter 1791-1883
  • Thompson, Paul Warwick
  • Moggridge, Bill
  • Baumann, Caroline
  • Davis, John 1961 September 24-
  • Neuhold-Ravikumar, Ruki
  • Nicanor, Maria
  • Carnegie Mansion (New York, N.Y.)
  • Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
  • Musée des arts décoratifs (France)
  • American Association of Museums
  • Committee to Save the Cooper Union Museum
  • Cooper-Hewitt Museum
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Guide to the Smithsonian Archives, 1996
  • SI News Release, "Maria Nicanor Named Director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum," February 8, 2022,, accessed February 10, 2022
  • 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 Musée des Arts Décoratifs 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 chairman, 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 set up. Curators and custodians of the Museum included Mary A. Peoli, 1898-1904; Mary S. M. Gibson, 1904-1945; and Calvin S. Hathaway, 1933-1963 (Assistant Curator, 1933-1946, Curator, 1946-1951, and Director, 1951-1963).
  • In 1963, the Cooper Union began consideration of plans to discontinue 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 Francis DuPont, was established. 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. That year the Museum was renamed the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design; it was designated the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1994. In 2014 the museum was renamed as the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
  • Heads of the Museum since 1963 have been H. Christian Rohlfing, Acting Administrator, 1963-1968; Richard P. Wunder, Director, 1968-1969; Lisa Taylor, Director, 1969-1987; Dianne H. Pilgrim, Director, 1988-2000; Paul Warwick Thompson, 2000-2009; Bill Moggridge, Director, 2010-2012; Caroline Baumann, 2013-2020; John Davis, Interim Director, 2020-2021; and Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, Interim Director, 2021-2022. In February 2022 Maria Nicanor, executive director of the Rice Design Alliance at Rice University's School of Architecture in Houston, was named Director and will begin her tenure at the end of March.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1896
  • 1896-


  • Decoration and ornament
  • Art museums
  • Art and design
  • Decorative arts


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00015

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