Opened in 1881, the United States National Museum offered display space in a cross-shaped design of four main exhibit halls with balconies. When a new museum for natural history collections opened across the Mall in 1910, the former National Museum building was designated “Arts & Industries.”
Entering from the Mall, visitors found themselves in the North Hall, with George Washington’s personal effects in cases to the left, and Abraham Lincoln’s personal effects to the right. Washington’s uniform occupied a case of its own in the center of the hall.
In 1941 a stylishly designed exhibit offered visitors a visual “index” of the Smithsonian’s collecting units. This portion of the exhibit highlighted Military, Civil, and Naval history. The Civil case featured a copy of the Washington bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon and the portable lap desk on which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.