VIDEO: An American Treasure, Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum Turns 40

By  //  July 6, 2016

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museum opened July 1, 1976

ABOVE VIDEO: Many great aviators, astronauts and pilots wish the National Air and Space Museum a happy 40th birthday (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Video)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Smithsonian’s aeronautical collection began long before the opening of the National Air and Space Museum on July 1, 1976.

In fact, 100 years prior to that opening, the Smithsonian received a group of beautiful kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission.

These kites, kept in the Arts and Industries Building, were the first aeronautical artifacts in the Smithsonian collection. Over time the Arts and Industries Building began to fill up with aviation artifacts.

So after World War I, the aviation collection was moved to a Quonset hut behind the Smithsonian Castle (known as the “Tin Shed”).

In 1946, President Truman signed a bill which established the Smithsonian National Air Museum to “memorialize the development of aviation; collect, preserve, and display aeronautical equipment; and provide educational material for the study of aviation”.

The National Air and Space Museum and the area known as “Rocket Row”. (Smithsonian Image)

However, the bill did not provide for the construction of new building and the collection began to outgrow its exhibition space.

As the discipline of aeronautics grew to include astronautics, the museum’s collection expanded to include artifacts relating to space flight. The collection included several missiles and rockets, which were kept on display outdoors in an area nicknamed “Rocket Row”.

Acknowledging this change in the discipline, President Johnson signed a law in 1966, which changed the museum’s name to the National Air and Space Museum.

Work on a permanent new building for the museum got underway in the 1970s. Ground was broken on November 20, 1972, and construction and creation of exhibits went on for the next four years.

The museum opened with great fanfare July 1, 1976, on the nation’s bicentennial. The proceedings were overseen by President Gerald Ford, Museum Director Michael Collins (Apollo 11 astronaut), and Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillion Ripley.

The traditional ribbon cutting was done in an unconventional fashion by the President Gerald Ford, who joked “That’s the most expensive scissors in history.” (Smithsonian Image)

The traditional ribbon cutting was done in an unconventional fashion: A signal from Viking 1, then orbiting Mars, triggered the scissors to cut the ribbon.

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President Ford joked, “”That’s the most expensive scissors in history.”

Continuing his speech on a more serious note, the President spoke of the past and the future, “Progress can be measured not only by the extent of our knowledge, but by increasing awareness of all that remains to be discovered.”