U.S. Department of the Interior Museum
The U.S. Department of the Interior Museum educates the public and DOI employees about the current missions and programs of the Department of the Interior, the history of the Department, and the art and architecture of its headquarters building in Washington, DC.
The Interior Museum acquires objects appropriate for promoting understanding of the Department's activities. The Museum holds these objects in trust and provides access to them for use in supporting the missions of the Department through the documentation, preservation, and management of our collections in ways that enhance their long-term availability for these purposes.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Museum was created by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes to help the American taxpayer understand the work of the Department. In 1935, Ickes appointed Carl Russell from the National Park Service museum division to head the museum committee charged with developing and designing the exhibits. Russell immediately gathered a staff of curators, model makers, artists, sculptors, and others to begin work on the Museum.
The construction of the Main Interior Building provided an opportunity for the new Museum and it was given one floor of an entire wing. The space was not originally intended to be a museum gallery, a challenge for the museum committee, which had to work around a long narrow wing with low ceilings and several load bearing columns.
A curator was assigned to each of the Department’s bureaus. Together these teams developed the exhibits featuring objects, photographs, maps, watercolor illustrations, and interpretative panels. Silhouettes cut from zinc to illustrate the work and mission of the Department were installed in some of the lighting coves above the exhibits.
The museum opened on March 8, 1938 and featured 1,000 objects in 95 exhibits. Secretary Ickes held a formal invitation-only party to open the museum on that day, the party also commemorated the 89th anniversary of the first day in office for the Department’s first secretary, Thomas Ewing. The Museum opened to the public the next day and was an immediate success with 3,000 to 4,000 people visiting the museum monthly.