Construction of the National Museum of American History began in the late 1950s. The Museum opened to the public in January 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. It was the sixth Smithsonian building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Since then, some 4 million visitors a year have passed through the doors to view the Museum’s exhibitions, public programs, educational activities, collections and research facilities. Millions more make virtual visits to the Museum’s website.
On June 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing $36 million for the museum. Groundbreaking took place on August 22, 1958. The architects were McKim, Mead and White (succeeded in 1961 by Steinman, Cain and White). Mills, Petticord and Mills were associate and supervising architects and engineers. The Museum’s area is approximately 750,000 square feet, including a basement, three main exhibition levels, two office-collection levels and a mechanical penthouse on the roof.
The building’s location on the National Mall qualifies it as a National Historic Landmark. Its status as one of the last structures designed by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, along with its location, makes it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1980, the Museum’s name was changed to the National Museum of American History to better represent its basic mission—the collection, care and study of objects that reflect the experience of the American people.
In 2008, the Museum completed a two-year, $85 million renovation of the building’s center core, dramatically transforming the building’s architectural appeal while reorganizing and renewing the presentation of its extensive collections. The renovation project focused on three areas: architectural enhancements to the center core, including a grand staircase and a skylight; construction of a new Star-Spangled Banner gallery, and updates to the 44-year-old building’s infrastructure.