National Museum of Natural History, Birahi
About National Museum of Natural History
The United States National Museum was founded in 1846 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum was initially housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is better known today as the Smithsonian Castle. A formal exhibit hall opened in 1858. The growing collection led to the construction of a new building, the National Museum Building (known today as the Arts and Industries Building). Covering a then-enormous 2.25 acres (9,100 m2), it was built in just 15 months at a cost of $310,000. It opened in March 1881.Congress authorized construction of a new building on June 28, 1902. On January 29, 1903, a special committee composed of members of Congress and representatives from the Smithsonian's board of regents published a report asking Congress to fund a much larger structure than originally planned. The regents began considering sites for the new building in March, and by April 12 settled on a site on the north side of B Street NW between 9th and 12th Streets. The D.C. architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall was chosen to design the structure. Testing of the soil for the foundations was set for July 1903, with construction expected to take three years. The Natural History Building (as the National Museum of Natural History was originally known) opened its doors to the public on March 17, 1910, in order to provide the Smithsonian Institution with more space for collections and research. The building was not fully completed until June 1911. The structure cost $3.5 million (about $85 million in inflation-adjusted 2012) dollars. The Neoclassical style building was the first structure constructed on the north side of the National Mall as part of the 1901 McMillan Commission plan. In addition to the Smithsonian's natural history collection, it also housed the American history, art, and cultural collections.
Between 1981 and 2003, the National Museum of Natural History had 11 permanent and acting directors. There were six directors alone between 1990 and 2002. Turnover was high as the museum's directors were disenchanted by low levels of funding and the Smithsonian's inability to clearly define the museum's mission. Robert W. Fri was named the museum's director in 1996. One of the largest donations in Smithsonian history was made during Fri's tenure. Kenneth E. Behring donated $20 million in 1997 to modernize the museum. Fri resigned in 2001 after disagreeing with Smithsonian leadership over the reorganization of the museum's scientific research programs.J. Dennis O'Connor, Provost of the Smithsonian Institution (where he oversaw all science and research programs) was named acting director of the museum on July 25, 2001. Eight months later, O'Conner resigned to become the vice president of research and dean of the graduate school at the University of Maryland. Douglas Erwin, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History, was appointed interim director in June 2002.
In January 2003, the Smithsonian announced that Cristián Samper, a Colombian with an M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, would become the museum's permanent director on March 31, 2003. Samper (who holds dual citizenship with Colombia and the United States) founded the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute and ran the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute after 2001. Smithsonian officials said Samper's administrative experience proved critical in his appointment. Under Samper's direction, the museum opened the $100 million Behring Hall of Mammals in November 2003, received $60 million in 2004 for the Sant Hall of Oceans, and received a $1 million gift from Tiffany & Co. for the purchase of precious gems for the National Gem Collection. On March 25, 2007, Lawrence M. Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the organization's highest-ranking appointed official, resigned abruptly after public reports of lavish spending.
On March 27, 2007 Samper was appointed Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian. Paul G. Risser, former chancellor of the University of Oklahoma, was named Acting Director of the Museum of Natural History on March 29.Samper's tenure at the museum was not without controversy. In May 2007, Robert Sullivan, the former associate director in charge of exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History, charged that Samper and Smithsonian Undersecretary for Science David Evans (Samper's supervisor) ordered "last minute" changes in the exhibit "Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely" to tone down the role of human beings in the discussion of global warming, and to make global warming seem more uncertain than originally depicted. Samper denied that he knew of any scientific objections to the changes, and said that no political pressure had been applied to the Smithsonian to make the changes. In November 2007, The Washington Post reported that an interagency group of scientists from the Department of the Interior, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Science Foundation believed that, despite Samper's denial, the museum "acted to avoid criticism from congressional appropriators and global-warming skeptics in the Bush administration". The changes were discussed as early as mid-August 2005, and Dr. Waleed Abdalati, manager of NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Program, noted at the time that "There was some discussion of the political sensitivities of the exhibit." Although the exhibit was due to open in October 2005, the Post reported that Samper ordered a six-month delay to allow for even further changes. The newspaper also reported that it had obtained a memo drafted by Samper shortly after October 15, 2005, in which Samper said the museum should not "replicate" work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A few weeks later, a NOAA climate researcher advised a superior that the delay was due to "the debate within the administration and the science community over the existence and cause of global warming". During the delay, Samper asked high-level officials in other government agencies and departments to review the script for the exhibit, ordered his museum staff to make additionals changes, and rearranged the sequence of the exhibit panels so that the discussion of climate change was not immediately encountered by museum visitors. Shortly before the exhibit opened in April 2006, officials at NOAA and the United States Department of Commerce expressed to their superiors their opinion that the exhibit had been changed to accommodate political concerns. In an interview with The Washington Post in November 2007, Samper said he felt the exhibit displayed a scientific certainty that did not exist, and expressed his belief that the museum should present evidence on both sides and let the public make up its own mind. The controversy became more heated after the press reported that Samper gave permission for the museum to accept a $5 million donation from American Petroleum Institute that would support the museum's soon-to-be-opened Hall of Oceans. Two members of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents (which had final say on accepting the donation) questioned whether the donation was a conflict of interest. Before the board could consider the donation, the donor withdrew the offer.Risser resigned as acting director of the museum on January 22, 2008, in order to return to his position at the University of Oklahoma. No new acting director was named at that time. Six weeks later, the Smithsonian regents chose Georgia Tech president G. Wayne Clough as the new Secretary. Samper stepped down to return to his position as Director of the National Museum of Natural History.The remainder of Samper's tenure at the museum proved less controversial. In June 2008, the Victoria and Roger Sant family donated $15 million to endow the new Ocean Hall at the museum. The museum celebrated the 50th anniversary of its acquisition of the Hope Diamond in August 2009 by giving the gemstone its own exhibit and a new setting. In March 2010, the museum opened its $21 million human evolution hall.In January 2012, Samper said he was stepping down from the National Museum of Natural History to become president and chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Two months later, the museum announced it had received a $35 million gift to renovate its dinosaur hall, and a month later the Sant family donated another $10 million to endow the director's position. On July 25, 2012 Kirk Johnson, vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, was named Samper's successor effective October 29, 2012. Johnson oversees a museum with 460 employees and a $68 million budget.