The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) is the first building of its kind on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. Originally named the National Museum Building, it was built to house the many foreign and domestic exhibits from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia donated to the government, as well as the existing collection in the Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as the Castle).

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Although Congress was responsible for the National Museum Building’s funding and design approval, the largely privately funded Smithsonian Institution was responsible for planning and actually building the museum, and for opening it to the public once it was completed in 1881.

The AIB’s Place in History

The AIB, as managed by the Smithsonian, played a large part in shaping the evolving concept of a museum as a place of public education and recreation. The AIB introduced visitors to America’s vast natural resources, arts, and industrial innovations. And with its sponsored lectures, publications, demonstrations and classes, it quickly became the model on which many other museums were based.

The AIB also established itself as a driving force in developing methods of museum administration, specimen preservation, exhibition management and educational outreach – methods that are standard practice in museums worldwide today.

The construction of the AIB marked the beginning of what is now considered one of the world’s greatest museum complexes. In its more than 130 years of existence, the AIB has contributed immensely – and continues to contribute – to our knowledge and understanding of American natural and cultural history.