Moments in Academy History


  “We call it the building for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, but in reality it should be the nation's home of science in America, and will be looked upon by our fellow citizens and the world at large as the place where the creative mind will be able to do much to bring about a better existence for the future people of the world.”  
  NAS President Charles D. Walcott, 1922  

The National Academy of Sciences had no building of its own for sixty years after its founding.  Its first meeting, in April 1863, took place in the chapel at the University of the City of New York (now New York University), and its subsequent meetings were held in various locations. In 1870, by a vote of its membership at its Annual Meeting, the Academy officially settled on Washington, DC as the location of its headquarters.

The Academy may have found a home city, but it still had no building. An early, unrealized opportunity for a permanent home for the Academy arose in 1900 when the Washington Academy of Sciences attempted to raise funds for a building intended to be used by similar local societies, including the National Academy of Sciences.  The original plan soon expanded into a grand project to construct a building for the scientific, cultural and educational societies of Washington.  In 1913 Congress granted land on the Mall to be used for such a building, but the conditions attached to the grant — which called for a structure costing at least two million dollars and construction to commence within two years — could not be met, and the project was abandoned.

Just prior to World War I, the federal government markedly increased its reliance on the Academy for advice on scientific and technical matters.  The need for a permanent home became pressing in 1916 with the founding of the Academy's operating arm, the National Research Council, by Executive Order of President Woodrow Wilson.  The Academy's building was to be realized through the efforts of NAS and NRC members, led by NAS member George Ellery Hale of the California Institute of Technology and by the generosity of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Continue Reading:

  A Home for Science in America Origins The Site Selection of an Architect Early Concepts of the Building The NAS Building's Exterior Exterior Stone Carvings and Bronze Work The Grounds The Entry Foyer The Great Hall Exhibits Library & Reading Room The Lecture Room and the Board Room The Wings The Auditorium Restoration Cleaning and Conservation of the Historic Core New Spaces and New Infrastructure
Endnotes Credits

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