Brent D. Glass Named Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

October 16, 2002

Brent D. Glass, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg, Pa., has been named Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Behring Center.

Glass is well known in museum communities for his scholarship in American history, particularly the history of industry and technology, urban history and the history of cultural organizations. He will join the Smithsonian in December. 

During his 15 years as Executive Director of the Commission, Glass managed the largest and most comprehensive state history program in the country, overseeing 350 full-time and 150 part-time employees. During his tenure, he also oversaw 25 historic sites and museums, the state Historic Preservation Office, public history programs and history publications.

"We’re delighted that Brent Glass is coming to the National Museum of American History at this pivotal time," Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small says. "He has the leadership skills, strong academic background and practical experience to guide this highly respected museum to the next level of excellence."

Glass, 55, led the development of several historic sites and museums, including more than $175 million in new construction, expansion and renovation at such places as the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg; the Erie Maritime Museum and Brig Niagara; the Landis Valley Museum near Lancaster; the State Museum and Archives in Harrisburg; and major exhibitions at all facilities. He also led the Commission into the digital age, with a new telecommunications system, a popular Web site, an electronic archives program, and strategic plans for an automated collections management system and a geographic information system.

Glass led the effort to conserve the Pennsylvania Charter and other important documents and artifacts, and oversaw the acquisition of the "Penn’s Treaty" collection and thousands of other artifacts.

Prior to becoming Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1987, Glass was Executive Director of the North Carolina Humanities Council. He earned his doctorate in philosophy and history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his master’s degree at New York University and a bachelor’s degree at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

"The National Museum of American History has an impressive staff, a superb collection, an outstanding location on the National Mall, generous support from private donors, strong leadership and a dedicated board," Glass says. "The great need for the future is to provide visitors with a strong sense of what it means to be an American through exhibitions and programs that interpret the major themes of American history."

The search committee for the director included: Ivan Selin, Chairman of the museum’s board; Pete Claussen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Gulf & Ohio Railways; David Fields, Vice President and General Counsel of Retail Properties at The Irvine Company in Irvine, Calif.; Irene Hirano, Executive Director and President of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles; Neil Harris, history professor at the University of Chicago; Sheila Burke, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for American Museums and National Programs (chair of the search committee); Richard Kurin, Director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; Rayna Green, Chair of the Division of Cultural History, and Steven Lubar, Chair of the History of Technology Division, both at the National Museum of American History.

The museum is the third busiest in the Smithsonian complex with more than 5 million visitors in 2001. It has more than 380 employees and a federal appropriation of approximately $20 million. It houses some of the Smithsonian’s best-known treasures, including the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the words for the National Anthem; the hat worn by President Lincoln on the night he was assassinated; the wooden lap desk used by Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration of Independence; the Woolworth lunch counter that was the site of the 1960 student sit-in in Greensboro, N.C.; and entertainment icons such as Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," Archie Bunker’s chair and the original Kermit the Frog puppet, as well as extensive collections from jazz greats Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

The Museum of American History opened in 1964 and is currently undergoing a major renovation of its permanent exhibitions, including its Hall of Transportation exhibition, "America on the Move," which is scheduled to open in November 2003. Many of the new exhibitions and the interior redesign are funded by the $80 million contribution made by California businessman and philanthropist Kenneth Behring in September 2000.

Last May, the Smithsonian received a comprehensive report from a panel of historians, scholars and museum professionals—the Blue Ribbon Commission on the National Museum of American History—which made 20 specific recommendations, from increased reach via the Internet to improving the presentation of objects (which it called "unrivaled collecti ons") in the museum.

Glass succeeds Marc Pachter, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, who has served as Acting Director at the Museum of American History for the past year. Spencer Crew, who served as Director for nine years, left the museum in November 2001 to become Executive Director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.


The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at or call (202) 633-1000.