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History


"Our gift to future generations of Americans must be a legacy of good health. This Museum will be that legacy."

William A. Haseltine, PhD
Chairman
National Health Museum
Testimony before US Congress
May, 2001

Though only founded in 1996, the National Health Museum is the ongoing result of decades of aspirations and efforts by individuals who share a dream of a place for learning and inspiration about health at the national Mall.

The Museum’s Chairman Emeritus C. Everett Koop, MD first envisioned the institution while he was serving as US Surgeon General from 1981 to 1989. From his office overlooking the Mall, Dr. Koop would witness countless young people from across the United States visiting Washington on school trips every day. While at the Mall, these young Americans could learn about the wonders of aviation, encounter the glories of art, and experience America’s pioneering history, all through visits to the many Smithsonian museums; yet they would learn nothing about that issue most relevant to them: their own personal health.

What was needed, Dr. Koop and others believed, was a new modern museum at the Mall to fill this void; a place that would educate and inspire these young people — and, indeed, individuals of all ages — to achieve lives of better health and wellbeing. Many years before, a medical museum with historic human anatomical and Civil War medical collections had drawn large crowds before departing its location at the Mall in the 1960s. In spite of its popularity, Koop envisioned the new museum as substantially different from the "human curio shop" model of the past. He and a group of similarly minded supporters began crafting plans for an entirely new institution, one with a forward-thinking mission that would seek to empower individuals to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

In October 1996, the National Health Museum, Inc. was formally established. Incorporated in the District of Columbia as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Museum was conceived not as a Federal entity, but as a private institution that would depend on volunteers for its funding and governance. With the support of a board comprised of leaders from the private sector and public service, museum planning began in earnest. Using seed money provided by supporters, the Museum hired its first president, assembled a staff, and began planning its future. In 1997, the US Congress passed legislation stating that the Museum should be located "on or near the (national) Mall on land owned by the Federal government, the District of Columbia, or both."

The Museum first began meeting its mission through active educational programming in 1999 when it acquired Access Excellence, an award-winning website for high school health and biology teachers. Generously donated to the Museum by Genentech, a biotechnology company, Access Excellence has grown increasingly popular under the Museum’s operation. As the Museum’s "virtual identity," it has garnered numerous awards and frequent recognition as an inarguable leader in the online educational arena. Its audience has also expanded markedly in recent years, with over 1.2 million webpages currently downloaded from the site each month. Plans are now underway to enhance the site and further expand its audience and educational offerings.

A milestone in the history of the National Health Museum occurred in 2000, when renowned scientist, educator, and corporate executive William A. Haseltine, PhD, became Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. Founder and CEO of Human Genome Sciences, Inc., a leading biotechnology company, Dr. Haseltine is an acknowledged pioneer in the field of genome research, as well as a generous philanthropist for a variety of educational causes. His acceptance of the role of Chairman has provided the Museum with indispensable direction and energy at a crucial moment in its history. Under his active and involved leadership, the Museum has experienced extensive growth and important progress in its efforts to secure a site at the national Mall.

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