The NAS Building

Recognition of Need

During the more than 50 years that the Academy resided at the Smithsonian, quite a few members looked forward to the time when the Academy would have its own building, "the home of science in America." At the close of World War I, necessity spurred this hope. The need for enlarged quarters to house the Academy and the newly created National Research Council (NRC) became urgent. The NRC, formed in 1916 as an entity of the Academy, broadened the Academy's role as adviser to the government and in the war-preparedness effort. It provided a framework within which governmental, educational, industrial, and other research organizations could cooperate to attack scientific problems.

Central to the creation of the NRC were George Ellery Hale, a noted solar physicist and leading spirit of the Academy, and Robert A. Millikan, distinguished physicist and educational leader. Largely through their efforts, on May 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed an Executive Order, requesting the National Academy of Sciences "to perpetuate the National Research Council ...." 1

Hale became chairman of an Academy building committee, succeeded later by the engineer Gano Dunn. In 1919, the Carnegie Corporation of New York agreed to contribute funds for construction of a building, plus an endowment, if the Academy could secure a building site. Thus encouraged, the Academy raised money for purchase of a tract of land near the new Lincoln Memorial in Potomac Park. The site, costing about $185,000 and measuring 531 by 422 feet, was bounded on the north by C Street, by 21st and 22nd Streets on the east and west, and cutting diagonally across its southern boundary, by Upper Water Street. Subsequently, an act of Congress closed off Upper Water Street, and the building site was squared to B Street, renamed Constitution Avenue in 1931.

The Carnegie Corporation set aside $5,000,000 for the Academy and NRC endowment, with $1,350,000 thereof available for construction of a building. The ultimate cost of the building, met by transfers from the endowment, was $1,450,000. Ground was broken the first week of July 1922; the cornerstone was laid on October 30. Construction was completed just in time for the building's dedication at the Academy's annual meeting, on April 28, 1924.

Read More:

... A Temple of Science  Recognition of Need  The Architect  The Setting and the Grounds  Description of the Building  The Façade  The Window Panels  The Doors  The Main Foyer and the Great Hall  The Library and the Members' Room  The Lecture Room and the Board Room  The Wings  The Auditorium  The Albert Einstein Memorial

1 The Order set forth the NRC's functions: "To stimulate research in the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences, and in the application of these sciences to engineering, agriculture, medicine, and other useful arts. ... To survey the large possibilities of science, to formulate comprehensive projects of research, and to develop effective means of utilizing the scientific and technical resources of the country. ... To promote cooperation in research, at home and abroad. ... To serve as a means of bringing American and foreign investigators into active cooperation with the scientific and technical services of the War and Navy Departments and with those of the civil branches of the Government. ... To direct the attention of scientific and technical investigators to the present importance of military and industrial problems in connection with the war. ...  [and] To gather and collate scientific and technical information at home and abroad, in cooperation with governmental and other agencies... "

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