The Making of a Museum

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Article gives an overview of the early history of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum Building (the Arts & Industries Building). Writing only four years after the museum was open to the public in 1881, the author sets the background and writes of the influences behind the museum's establishment. First Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry had the view that the Smithsonian should concentrate on research and publication of research findings; he did not interpret the mission of the Smithsonian to include the management of a museum. However, his assistant and successor as Smithsonian Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, had a different opinion; when he took office in 1878, his first priority was to push for the construction of a National Museum. Monies were appropriated by the U.S. Congress, the museum was completed three years later, and Baird appointed Dr. G. Brown Goode as museum director. Goode had a democratic approach to museum theory and believed exhibits should be designed to promote the education of the public at large. Goode is interviewed by the author, who includes some of Goode's quotes in the article that reflect the philosophy used to shape the museum's exhibits. The author details the museum's architectural plan, praising its Greek cross design, and lauds the exhibit space available and styles of exhibit display cases. He also writes how the various classifications of exhibits are presented, expounds on new methods of taxidermy and other ways animals are presented in exhibits, and describes exhibits planned for the future. The writer concludes by elaborating on his opinion that the benefit received by the public from the museum hinges on how well exhibits are labeled. He sees the museum as a vast collection of labels illustrated by specimens, and states that for the museum to be a success, exhibit labels must be very detailed.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Goode, G. Brown (George Brown) 1851-1896
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States National Museum
  • Arts and Industries Building


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Twelve illustrations accompany the article.

Contained within

The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Vol. XXIX, New Series Vol. VII (Journal)

Contact information

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


November 1884 to April 1885


  • Museum buildings
  • Museum labels
  • Education
  • Secretaries
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Exhibit cases
  • SI, Early History
  • Museums
  • Museum architecture
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Museum exhibits
  • Museum techniques


Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

pp. 354-369

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