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Display Showcases Two Key Smithsonian Figures

WASHINGTON, DC.- Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History can learn more about two of the Smithsonian leaders who championed the museum’s creation when a case exhibit goes on display in December. Their life’s work also offers a history of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of American History (originally known as Museum of History and Technology).

Leonard Carmichael (1898–1973) was Smithsonian Secretary between 1953 and 1964; previously he was president of Tufts University. During his tenure as Secretary, he was instrumental in the modernization and expansion of the national collections, securing funding for the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery and two new wings in the Natural History building. He said, “The Smithsonian has the world’s largest collection of gems, fossils and airplanes, it was stupid not to sort it and show it off.”

Frank Taylor (1903–2007) was the Museum of History and Technology’s founding director from 1958 to 1968. Taylor viewed artifacts as tools for illuminating the past and present, and his idea for the building was a simple rectangular, open-floor plan providing flexibility for exhibits and a pleasurable viewing experience for visitors.

Taylor started at the Smithsonian fresh out of high school. He was an apprentice before becoming head curator of engineering and industries after receiving an engineering degree from MIT. The Southern Railway locomotive No. 1401 was watched over by Taylor for more than a decade until he could move it into the new museum as a prized centerpiece of the Railroad Hall. It took 11 days to place the locomotive into the building, a task undertaken before the final walls could be put in. Although he retired in 1971, he continued to consult with the Smithsonian until 1983.

The objects on display include a 1977 bronze bust of Carmichael, who was trained as a psychologist and pursued a passion for zoology. The bust shows the Secretary holding a baby gorilla named Leonard and an unnamed chimp. Also on display will be the bronze ceremonial trowels used to lay the cornerstone for the museum. One trowel bears the inscription “Frank Taylor 1961.”

Other items include a photograph of Carmichael escorting First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and Britain’s Queen Mother through a first ladies exhibit in 1954 and a proposal pamphlet from the early 1950s as support began to build for a truly American museum.

National Museum of American History | Leonard Carmichael | Frank Taylor |

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