Frank Taylor: Founding Director Of American History Museum, Dies at 104

Historians in the News

Frank A. Taylor, 104, the founding director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, which has become the permanent home of such popular treasures as the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" and Abraham Lincoln's top hat, died of respiratory failure June 14 at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

In 1964, Mr. Taylor, a native Washingtonian, helped launch what has become the institution's third-most popular museum. About 3 million people passed through the doors annually until it closed for renovations in September, attendance surpassed only by the Air and Space and Natural History museums.

Mr. Taylor, described in a press account as "a genial book of knowledge," was responsible for modernizing exhibits throughout the Smithsonian. He also established a program of research and scholarly publication for the old National Museum of History and Technology, the predecessor of the National Museum of American History, and began the planning for a major storage and conservation center in Suitland. He also opened a terrace patio, offering refreshments and music, adjacent to the museum, to impress on visitors how civilized Washington is.

"He was a gentleman to the core," said John Jameson, a Smithsonian administrator who worked with him.

Mr. Taylor was born at the family home on Capitol Hill. His father, Augustus Taylor, a pharmacist, owned the drugstore at Second Street and Maryland Avenue NE. His grandfather, Edward Kübel, a noted scientific instrument maker from Bavaria, lived nearby.

His boyhood memories included the excavation for the railroad tunnel to Union Station, the 1918 flu epidemic and a two-day bicycle trip to Ocean City. He graduated from what was then called McKinley Manual Training School in 1921 and received an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1928. In 1934, he received a law degree from Georgetown University....

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