The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, located in New York City, is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. It is the mission of Cooper-Hewitt’s staff and board of trustees to advance the public understanding of design across the 240 years of human creativity represented by the museum’s collection.
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 Artes Décoratifs of Paris, France. The purpose of the museum was to provide the art students of Cooper Union, other 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 handled by 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 chair, 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 established.
The museum was formally transferred 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. The Cooper-Hewitt was the first Smithsonian museum to be located outside of Washington, DC. In 1970, the museum moved into its present home, the Carnegie Mansion, which was renovated and reopened to the public in 1976. In July of 1978, the museum opened a conservation lab. The museum was renamed the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1994. In addition to exhibits, the museum hosts design competitions, such as the National Design Awards and offers a wide array of educational programs, including a masters degree program with Parsons The New School for Design since 1982. In 2008, the museum launched a new effort to renovate and expand the building.
The mansion was designed by the architectural firm of Babb, Cook & Willard in the style of a Georgian country house. The house contains fascinating innovations, such as being the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame, and one of the first in New York to have a residential Otis passenger elevator (now in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC). Another innovation was the inclusion of both central heating and a precursor to air-conditioning. In the cellar, enormous twin boilers were run by coal transferred from storage bin to furnace by a coal car that traveled over a miniature railroad track. The building received landmark status in 1974. The museum changed its name to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2014.
- Chronology of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- Bibliography of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- Historic Images of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Records from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Historic Picture Highlights of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- Additional Collections and Records of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum across the Smithsonian