The Interior Museum is a museum operated by the United States Department of the Interior and housed at the Department’s headquarters at the Stewart Lee Udall Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C., on the first floor. importance of having the American people understand the work of the Department. To this day, the Interior Museum’s mission remains to actively educate and inspire employees and the public about the ongoing stewardship of the nation’s public lands, natural resources, and cultural heritage.
For more than 75 years, the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum’s mission has been to inspire and educate Departmental employees—as well as the general public—about the ongoing stewardship of the nation’s public lands, natural resources and cultural heritage.The Museum’s collection contains more than 8,000 objects of historical, cultural and scientific importance relating directly to the policies and activities of the Department. Highlights include more than 800 North American Indian baskets, two heroic landscape paintings of the American West by Thomas Moran, geological specimens, portraiture, and items presented as official gifts to Secretaries of the Interior.
In addition to developing exhibitions and public programs, Interior Museum staff also conduct public tours highlighting the elements that made the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building a “symbol of a new day” during the Great Depression. The headquarters building contains more New Deal-era murals than any other government building, featuring such artists as John Steuart Curry, Maynard Dixon, William Gropper, Allan Houser, Velino Herrera, and Millard Sheets, plus a series of photomurals by Ansel Adams.
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.
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.
The Interior Museum preserves artifacts and documents related to the history of the Department and the architecture of the 1930s Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building. Starting in 1936, the Interior Museum has collected over 6,000 objects of cultural, historic, and scientific importance, including a collection of over 800 North American Indian baskets. These were contributed by private donors who collected in the Southwest, California, and to a lesser extent the Northwest, and the Plains. The Interior Museum also has 1,500 items made in the United States insular areas of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Most of the artifacts are handicrafts such as storyboards, dolls, and baskets that date from the 1940s to present time.
The Office of the Secretary Art Collection is composed of two and three-dimensional artwork relating to the work of the Department of the Interior. The program places works of art into administrative office spaces in the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building. The artwork is intended to catalyze “moments of inspiration to employees, keeping them in touch with the resources they…manage” and “to serve a public relations function by communicating the mission of the [Department of the Interior] to its visitors.” The collection includes works by Alvin Pimsler, John Schoenherr, and Donald Moss.
People, Land & Water: This state-of-the-art exhibition introduces audiences to the scope and influence of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Features of this all-new visitor experience include over 75 fascinating artifacts, an inspiring 14-minute film, plus educational multimedia presentations to acquaint and actively engage the public with the Department’s history, relevance, and current missions. A timeline, plus broad interpretive themes of discovering, protecting, contemporary cultures, and powering our future provide a framework for understanding the interconnectivity among the Department’s nine bureaus, as well as the projects in which our 70,000 employees are engaged nationally and internationally. Learn just how much there is to discover about the Department of Everything Else.
Admission is free, but valid photo identification must be presented to enter the building. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30AM to 4:30PM (closed federal holidays). Building tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2PM; advance reservations are required.