Agency history, 1955-

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  • Anglim, John E
  • Mahoney, James A
  • Coppola, John
  • Headley, Michael A
  • Ades, Susan
  • O'Connor, Matthew
  • Smithsonian Institution Office of Exhibits
  • Smithsonian Institution Office of Exhibits Central
  • Smithsonian Institution Office of Exhibits Programs


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.
  • Record Unit 90 - Office of Exhibits Central, Exhibits Editor's Office, Exhibition Scripts, 1948-1978; Finding Aid
  • Smithsonian Exhibits, About, Mission,, accessed April 29, 2022
  • Smithsonian Staff Directory, 1965-2002
  • Annual Report of the Board of Regetns of the Smithsonian Institution, 1959
  • Smithsonian Year, 1965-1973
  • "John Coppola", LinkedIn,, accessed June 7, 2022
  • "Valley Pike: Mike Headley and the value of family", The Winchester Star, November 7, 2018,, accessed June 7, 2022
  • "Susan Ades", LinkedIn,, accessed June 7, 2022
  • Exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution have always been the responsibility of the curatorial staff. However, prior to 1948, exhibits were generally a low priority, in keeping with museological notions of the time. There was no centralized planning or support for an exhibits function beyond the efforts of individual curators. Preparators, taxidermists, and other Museum staff assembled exhibits very much on an ad hoc basis.
  • After the Second World War, a group of curators became interested in improving museum exhibits. An exhibits modernization committee was formed to study ways of improving exhibits. They hoped to combine visual effect, specimens and information in a way that would engage the viewers more actively than before, when specimens were displayed with too little or too much written text. In 1950 the Institution began to contract out design and remodeling of exhibits and exhibits areas. Curators and preparators retained supervision of the exhibits, but contractors were employed to create a more lively and finished presentation.
  • In 1955, by consolidating personnel and other exhibits resources, an Office of Exhibits was established, with John E. Anglim as its chief. The office was responsible for the design and production of permanent exhibits, as well as special and traveling exhibits in the United States National Museum and its successor museums. The office changed its name to the Office of Exhibit Programs in 1969.
  • In 1973 the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Air and Space Museum established independent exhibits laboratories to produce and design exhibits. The remaining functions (exhibits services for bureaus without exhibit staff; specialized exhibit services such as motion picture production, audio-visual services, freeze-dried taxidermy, plastics and model-restoration work; scripts for special and traveling exhibits; and exhibits training programs) are performed by the renamed Office of Exhibits Central.
  • In 2016 the office changed is name to Smithsonian Exhibits and continues to be a pan-institutional resource for exhibit planning, exhibit development, design and production services. Staff provides exhibit expertise and support to all public-facing functions within Smithsonian museums and offices.
  • Heads of the office included John E. Anglim, Chief of Exhibits, later Director, 1955-1972; James A. Mahoney, Director, 1973-1986; vacant, 1987-1990; John Coppola, Director, 1991-1995; Michael A. Headley, Director, 1996-2011; Susan Ades, Director, 2013-2022; and Matthew O'Connor, Acting Director, 2022- .
  • For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.

Repository Loc.

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


  • 1955
  • 1955-


  • Traveling exhibitions
  • Museums
  • Museum exhibits
  • Museum techniques


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00445

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