The Museum’s History
The road to establishing the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) was a long but deliberate one, sustained by Marines, civilians, and the American public who believed it was essential to capture, restore, and maintain the history of the Marine Corps and its service to the Nation. The NMMC’s artifact collection precedes any formally established museum; and its collection is one of the best amongst the Services, with its small arms collection being one of the best in the world. It is this pride of history and self that propelled dedicated individuals to keep safe some of the Marine Corps’ most precious artifacts.
1933: Commandant of the Marine Corps General Ben H. Fuller directed the Commanding General, Marine Barracks Quantico to establish a trophy room to exhibit historical objects and photographs. The Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., borrowed artifacts from the Historical Branch of Headquarters Marine Corps to exhibit in the Sousa Band Hall.
1940: Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General Thomas Holcomb directed the establishment of a museum at Marine Corps Base Quantico, on the second floor of the new Quantico Recreation Center (now Little Hall). The museum housed a series of built-in wall cases containing mannequins clad with historical uniforms, as well as flags, weapons, trophies, and medals.
Early 1950s: Commandant of the Marine Corps General Lemuel C. Shepard, Jr., had Marine Reservist John H. Magruder III return to active duty to oversee the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico.
1960: Colonel Magruder and a staff of five moved the Marine Corps Museum to Building 1019, next to Little Hall. During Magruder’s tenure as museum director, his procurement of additional buildings allowed the museum to create exhibits that focused on Marine Corps aviation history.
1973: The museum moved its collections and built staff offices into Building 2014, the 1920s brig in Quantico.
1976: The Quantico-based Marine Corps Museum (in Building 1019) closed. The art and artifacts, and some staff offices, were moved to the Washington Navy Yard into a new Marine Corps Museum.
1978: The Marine Corps Aviation Museum opened at Quantico; it was located at Brown Field near the present-day Officer Candidates School. Exhibits focused on the role of World War II Marine aviation.
Until the late 1970s, the past, current, and future status of a museum to preserve and maintain Marine Corps history had been a secondary or tertiary thought when it came to funding and maintenance. However, in 1979, the Marine Corps Historical Foundation was established as a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and maintaining the official history of the Marine Corps. Its members consisted of retired Marines and fellow Americans who realized that the History and Museums Division was neither funded nor staffed sufficiently to handle the workload. The Historical Foundation also realized that as a Government entity, the History and Museums Division could not solicit funds to support the maintenance of the Marine Corps’ history, but the Historical Foundation could. In the late 1980s, Congress authorized each Military Service to develop its own national museum to house, preserve, and interpret its history for the American public. Congress’ authorization allowed the creation of a public-private partnership between the Historical Foundation and the Marine Corps.
1985: Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons ordered that the Aviation Museum be renamed the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum. Exhibits were updated to include air-ground combat operations.
1990: A third hangar was added to the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum.
1995: The Historical Foundation began to discuss the concept of a new heritage center at Quantico vice expanding the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum.
To support the vision of the Historical Foundation’s expanded role of providing support and development of a heritage complex for the Marine Corps, the Historical Foundation changed its name to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation (MCHF) in 1998. The MCHF’s efforts and vision would broaden to support a museum and its educational endeavors. The public-private partnership between the MCHF and the Marine Corps was solidified: the Marine Corps funded the design, exhibitions, artifact conservation, and federal staff salaries, and the MCHF raised the funds to build the 120,000 square foot structure. The NMMC’s development and construction would be executed in two phases: phase I included concept and initial build and phase II, the final phase, would expand the NMMC’s square footage by another 117,000 square feet.
1999: The Historical Foundation began a capital campaign to build a heritage center at Quantico.
2000: Congress authorized a joint venture between the Marine Corps and the MCHF for the design and construction of a multipurpose facility to be used for historical displays for public viewing, curation, and storage of artifacts, research facilities, classrooms, offices, and associated activities and it was to be known as the Marine Corps Heritage Center.
July 2001: Following a national competition, Fentress Bradburn Architects of Denver, Colorado, was selected as the winner of the design for the NMMC.
2002: Prince William County deeded 135 acres of land from Locust Shade Park to the Marine Corps.
November 15, 2002: The Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum closed in preparation for the opening of the NMMC.
2003: General contractor Centex Corporation led the NMMC’s groundbreaking. The Marine Corps contracted with exhibit designers Christopher Chadbourne and Associates of Boston, Massachusetts, as well as Design and Production, Inc., of Lorton, Virginia.
August 31, 2005: The Marine Corps Museum at the Navy Yard closed in preparation for the opening of the NMMC. The art, artifacts, and staff were relocated to Quantico. The Museums Branch became a division under Marine Corps University.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps opened in Triangle, Virginia, on November 10, 2006, the 231st birthday of the Marine Corps. Along with Leatherneck Gallery, Making Marines, and Legacy Walk, the Museum opened historical galleries covering World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
June 6, 2010: The NMMC opened historical galleries covering the 1775 birth of the Marine Corps through World War I.
March 27, 2015: The NMMC and MCHF broke ground for a 70,000 square foot expansion to house a large format theater, a children’s gallery, an extension of the Legacy Walk, and new galleries to tell the history of the Marine Corps from 1976 to 2016.
November 18, 2017: The Children’s Gallery opens to the public.
March 2020: The continuation of the Legacy Walks opens to the public.
Col John Magruder's Quantico Museum building concept was based on the nineteenth-century fortress-style layout of the Marine barracks in Pensacola, FL. The distinctive entrance gate provides the central motif for Magruder's museum.
Artifacts on exhibit in Building 1019, August 1965.
The NMMC as seen from one of the heritage paths near the chapel on the Heritage Center grounds.
Recent view of Leatherneck Gallery from the second deck overlook of the NMMC.
This graphic shows the final phase gallery layout. From left, the chronology starts in 1976 and ends with Operation Iraqi Freedom on the right.
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