Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Influenced by the British Royal Navy, the first Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, Thomas Tingey began to collect captured cannons and ammunition for display, including the Tripoli Monument, relocated to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, in 1860.    In 1865, Commodore John B. Montgomery established the Museum of Naval Relics and Weapons in Building 10 and remained open until 1913.   Relocating to Building 120, the museum shared space with the Seaman Gunner’s Quarters and the Recruiting Office.   The building was demolished in 1927 and the artifacts were placed in storage.   Founded in 1926, the Naval Historical Foundation began to collect a trust for a new naval museum in 1932.   Due to the Great Depression and funds disbursed by Congress for other matters, the new museum was abandoned.    In April 1935, the Yard Museum opened in Building 40 at the north end of Shop 18.   Despite heavy production during World War II, the museum remained open.  The name of the museum changed to Naval Gun Factory Museum in December 1945.  

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke recognized the importance for the U.S. Navy to establish a formal museum.  Rewarded from his hard work, the Naval Historical Display Center was established in May 1961.   Acquiring Building 76, the old Breech Mechanism Shop in 1962, conversion was completed for the opening in May 1963.  The Naval Historical Display Center’s title has been changed numerous times first to the U.S. Navy Memorial Museum in 1972 then to The Navy Museum in 1985 and, finally, to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.    In 2012, the Cold War Gallery opened for visitors to interact with Cold War exhibits such as “Into the Lion’s Den” and “The Ready Room” theater.     As the flagship of the U.S. Navy, the exhibits present an overview of the navy from the American Revolution to the present and holds numerous events and tours by our Education Department every month.  

Image: KN-19277:  Aerial view of the Washington Navy Yard, March 1970.  Note the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in the center.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.