History of Use

Natural history museums had relatively few precedents in the United States before the 19th century, when the modern concept of a museum began to take shape.

Through the Arts and Industries Building (AIB), the Smithsonian Institution played a very important part in defining how to research, preserve, and interpret collections, and the importance of sharing these collections with the public.

The AIB has served a variety of uses in its existence. It was the original home of the National Museum; it has also hosted an inaugural ball, and served as an “incubator” for other Smithsonian Institution museums.

One of its most popular exhibits was in celebration of the Bi-Centennial which reinstalled many of the original objects from Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

Exterior view of the North Entrance to the Arts and Industries Building in the 1890s.Image of AIB Rotunda, East and South Halls in 1976 with objects from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876.