About the Museum

Historic Interior Museum Gallery circa 1940s


Interior Museum History
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.

Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building History
The Interior Department headquarters was the first building in Washington, DC authorized, designed, and built by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. The building reflects the dedication and commitment to government service of President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who believed that a "new day" had arrived in which the government would provide for its citizens. The Interior building combines elements of both modern and classical architecture, and illustrates the principles of utility and economy characteristic of the "New Deal" style. The stripped classicism motif rejected the lavish design, ornate decoration, and exorbitant construction costs of earlier federal buildings.

The building has seven stories and a basement. The design consists of six wings running east-west with a connecting central corridor running north-south. Most of the structure's exterior features smooth Indiana limestone, with accents of pink granite. The building has more than three miles of corridors, with the main corridor on each floor a full two blocks long. There are 2,200 rooms in the building and specially designed spaces such as an auditorium, museum, gymnasium, and library. Murals commissioned by the Federal government are set in strategic positions at the end of each corridor, near the elevator banks, and in key public places.

The United States Congress passed legislation on June 8, 2010 to rename the Main Interior Building the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building. As the 37th Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Udall served from 1961 to 1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. His legacy is marked by his commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, his forward-looking stewardship of our Nation's natural resources, and his support for the arts and humanities.

Two National Park Service employees constructing the Hoover Dam diorama circa 1936
NPS employees constructing the Hoover Dam diorama circa 1936

Contact Us:

Mailing Address:
U.S. Department of the Interior
Interior Museum
1849 C Street, NW (MS 1361)
Washington, DC 20240

General Information and Tour Reservations: 202.208.4743
Registrar: 202.208.7017
Curator: 202.208.1166

Employment and Internships:

Employment opportunities at the Interior Museum are posted on USAJOBS.
Internships are occasionally offered through the National Park Service Historic Preservation Internship Training Program (NCPE).