Frank Augustus Taylor
Major, United States Army
Frank A. Taylor, 104, the founding Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, died of respiratory failure June 14, 2007, in a Washington, D.C., hospital.
A native of Washington, Taylor helped launch the museum, which is the permanent home of such popular treasures as the ruby slippers from the film "The Wizard of Oz" and Abraham Lincoln's top hat.
Taylor was responsible for modernizing exhibits throughout the Smithsonian. He also established a program of research and scholarly publication for the National Museum of History and Technology, the predecessor of the National Museum of American History.
He earned an engineering degree from MIT in 1928 and a law degree from Georgetown University in 1934. During World War II, he served as a captain in the Army in the Philippines and left the Army with the rank of Major.
In 1954, Congress authorized the National Museum
of History and Technology (the current name was adopted in 1980). Taylor
was assigned to plan the new museum, oversee construction of the building,
hire the staff and develop exhibits. In 1958 he was appointed the museum's
first director. It opened in 1964.
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, 2007, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.
In 1964, 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.
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, Md. He also opened
a terrace patio, offering refreshments and music, adjacent to the museum,
to impress on visitors how civilized Washington is.
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 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.
He was just out of high school when he began working as a laboratory apprentice in the U.S. National Museum's Division of Mechanical Technology.
He told Smithsonian magazine five years ago that he vividly recalled the World War I veterans who came to the city during the Depression as the "Bonus Army" to petition the government for a promised bonus. In 1932, they camped in a "Hooverville" near the Anacostia River and massed before the Capitol.
As an engineer and the head curator of engineering and industries, Taylor was particularly interested in mechanical devices. He was called to the coast at Cape May, New Jersey, to identify a sunken wooden ship that the tides exposed, and he kept track of an 1851 steam engine for 27 years until he was able to bring it to the museum.
During World War II, Taylor served as a Captain in the Army in the Philippines. After he returned from military service, he saw the museum's exhibits with new eyes and realized how tired they had become.
He joined others in advocating a new building and increased emphasis on exhibitions. In 1954, Congress authorized the National Museum of History and Technology (the current name was adopted in 1980). After an extended tour of European museums, Taylor was assigned to plan the new museum on the Mall. He oversaw construction of the building, hiring of staff and development of exhibits, and in 1958, he was appointed the museum's first director. It opened in January 1964.
In 1968, Taylor became director-general of
museums, with responsibilities for Smithsonian-wide programs in conservation,
exhibits and registration, National Museum Act programs and the Smithsonian
Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. He was director of the Air and
Space Museum, as well, from 1969 until his retirement in 1971. He continued
to work as a research associate and consultant to the secretary of the
Smithsonian until 1983.
On Thursday, June 14, 2007 of Washington, D.C. Husband of the late Virginia McCaig Taylor; father of Joan J. Taylor, Ph.D (Cantab). Also survived by a niece, a nephew, cousins and close friends.
Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Western Ave. at Quesada St. N.W. on Monday, July 9 at 4 p.m. Friends may call at the Chapel of Most Blessed Sacrament on Monday from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Interment Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday, July 10 at 9 a.m. Please assemble at Memorial Gate at 8:45 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in his name
to MIT, office of Memorial Gifts, Room E19-411, 77 Massachusetts Ave.,
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 or Georgetown University Law Center, Office
of Development, 600 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, given
in memory of Dr. Frank Taylor, GULC, Class of '34, or Smithsonian Institution
Libraries, P.O. Box 37012, MRC-154 RM 24MZ, Washington, D.C. 20013.