Architectural History of the National Museum of History and Technology (National Museum of American History) , 1958

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  • Construction of the National Museum of History and Technology began in 1958. It was the first building to be built on the National Mall since 1923 when the Freer Gallery opened. Following the museum's ideals of modern technology, the building was to be built with modern architectural features, as opposed to an architectural revival style like all of the previous Smithsonian museums had been built in.
  • The sleek and modern five story building is perfectly rectangular, and was built using Tennessee marble blocks. According to then Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael, the idea for the design was that the museum should be an exhibit vessel, not just a pretty building. Chief architect Walker O. Cain of the architecture firm Kim, Mead, and White described the building as "so disarmingly simple that I think it sits well with neo-classical buildings all around it."
  • The museum sits on a broad platform base, and boasts modernist shadow cornices. There are very few additional architectural elements, keeping the building simple and modern. Parking entrances were skillfully hidden by greenery. In 1980, the museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American History.


  • Cain, Walker O. 1915-1993
  • Carmichael, Leonard 1898-1973
  • Department of Public Programs (NMAH)
  • McKim, Mead & White
  • National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.)
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) (NMAH)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. (2009). A guide to Smithsonian architecture. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • 1958-1964
  • 20th century


  • Architecture--Washington (D.C.)
  • Architecture
  • Museums
  • Museum architecture
  • Architecture, Modern


Washington (D.C.)

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