National Air Museum (NAM) was created as a separate bureau
of the Smithsonian Institution by an Act of Congress on 12
August 1946. Twenty years later, its name was changed to the
National Air and Space Museum (NASM) as part of a congressional
act authorizing a separate building to house its collections,
which opened to the public on July 1, 1976.
The National Air and Space Museum collection dates back to the closing of the 1876
Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia when the Smithsonian
received a group of kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission.
In 1889, the Stringfellow engine became the first object accessioned
into the collection. The collections of the Museum were housed
in the Arts and Industries Building, in a shed in the south
yard known as the "Air and Space Building" and outdoors
in "Rocket Row." The beginning of the conquest of
space in the 1950s and 1960s helped to drive the renaming
of the Museum to the National Air and Space Museum, and finally
congressional passage of appropriations for the construction
of the new Museum in 1971.