National Air and Space Museum

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1946
Active 1963
Active 1973
Active 1963
Active 1978

History notes:

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. The museum has hundreds of artifacts on display including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the "Spirit of St. Louis," Apollo 11 command module, and a Lunar rock sample that visitors can touch. The museum continues to develop new exhibits to examine the impact of air and space technology on science and society.

The National Air Museum (NAM) was created as a separate bureau of the Smithsonian Institution by an Act of Congress in 1946. Twenty years later, its name was changed to the National Air and Space Museum as part of a congressional act authorizing a separate building to house its collections.

Before 1946, the aeronautical collections had been assigned to the custodial care of the United States National Museum's Department of Anthropology, Division of Mechanical Technology, 1887-1919; the Department of Arts and Industries, Division of Mechanical Technology, 1919-1931; and the Division of Engineering, 1931-1946. In 1946 Carl W. Mitman was appointed Assistant to the Secretary for NAM. Upon Mitman's retirement in 1952, Curator Paul E. Garber was named Head Curator.

The NASM collection dates to the closing of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia when the Smithsonian received a group of kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission. In 1889, the Stringfellow engine became the first object accessioned into the collection. The twentieth century brought an explosion in flight technology and the emergence of air power as a deciding factor in World War II. The collections of the NAM were housed in the Arts and Industries Building, in a shed in the south yard known as the "Air and Space Building," and outdoors in "Rocket Row." The beginning of the conquest of space in the 1950s and 1960s helped to drive the renaming of the Air Museum and finally congressional passage in 1971 of appropriations for the construction of the new Museum.

After the groundbreaking ceremony held in November 1972, work on the new building proceeded on two fronts-the actual construction of the edifice and work by the staff on two dozen exhibition halls. The staff moved into the Museum in 1975 and completed preparations for the July 1, 1976, opening, part of the Smithsonian's contribution to the Bicentennial celebration. During the 1980s, the Museum began to focus more directly on its research component. Fellowships were established in the curatorial departments, outreach in the form of lectures and other public programs increased, and the NASM Archives was created.

In addition to the artifacts on display in the Museum in Washington, D.C., hundreds more artifacts are currently housed at the Museum's Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, MD.

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport is the companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall. The building opened in December, 2003, and provides enough space for the Smithsonian to display the thousands of aviation and space artifacts that cannot be exhibited on the National Mall. The two sites together showcase the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world.

Museum directors have included Philip S. Hopkins, serving from 1958 to 1964. He was succeeded by S. Paul Johnston, who held the position from 1964 to 1969. Frank A. Taylor was appointed Acting Director and held that position until Michael Collins was appointed Director in 1971. Collins guided the Museum through the construction and opening of the new facility. He resigned in 1978 and was succeeded by Melvin B. Zisfein, Acting Director, 1978-1979; Noel W. Hinners, Director, 1979-1982; Walter Boyne, Acting Director, 1982, Director, 1983-1986; Donald S. Lopez, Acting Director, 1986, 1995, and 1999; James C. Tyler, Acting Director, 1986-1987; Martin Harwit, Director, 1987-1995; Donald Davenport Engen, 1996-1999; and John R. Dailey, Director, 2000- .

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 218080

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Permalink:
http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6136gp6
Ark ID:
w6136gp6
SNAC ID:
83510827

Subjects:

  • Airplanes

Occupations:

not available for this record

Functions:

  • Aeronautics
  • Education

Places:

  • Outer space (as recorded)