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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Shortly after the Smithsonian Castle was completed in 1855, thousands of specimens–mostly from government expeditions–crowded the building. The Smithsonian’s second building–now known as the Arts and Industries Building–opened in 1881. Officials quickly determined that the rapidly growing collections, now nearing a million specimens, needed even more space.

Two decades later, President Theodore Roosevelt authorized the construction of a third Smithsonian building. Opening to the public on March 17, 1910, the new U.S. National Museum, which later became the National Museum of Natural History, contained exhibitions on art, culture, history, and the natural world–as well as space for collections research and storage.

Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Overcrowded conditions, like those depicted in this photograph of a work space in the Arts and Industries Building (1890s), prompted Smithsonian officials to ask Congress to fund a larger museum building.
Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Setting the final stone in the arch over the south porch overlooking the National Mall, 1909.
The exterior of the building’s dome is covered in slate shingles.

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