Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum History

What stories contributed to the history of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum?

Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt. Andrew and Louise Carnegie. James Smithson. And more!

Many people contributed to the creation of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in its various forms throughout history. From a decorative arts collection to an industrialist’s uptown mansion to a generous gift from a stranger across the Atlantic, each story has helped shape the nation’s design museum and a global conversation about design.

Read a timeline of Cooper Hewitt’s history.

Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt

Side by side portraits of two young women in late-19th-century fashion.

Dedicated collectors, educators, and philanthropists, Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt founded The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration and were part of the mercurial society of late-19th- and early-20th-century New York.

The Cooper Union Museum for The Arts of Decoration

A black-and-white photograph of a museum gallery, with a large, ornate cabinet holding ceramics, paintings on the wall, and an arched window.

With its galleries officially opening in 1897, The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, located near Astor Place in New York City, was the first home of what is now Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection.

The Carnegie Mansion

A black and white photograph of a large, rectangular, four-story brick mansion set slightly back from the street corner it's built on. It has rows of windows all along each floor, and a tall, cast iron fence protects it from the surrounding sidewalk. A person stands on the sidewalk, looking miniscule compared to the house towering behind them.

Andrew and Louise Carnegie’s Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City, completed in 1902, serves as Cooper Hewitt’s present home.

The Smithsonian Institution

In white against a black background appears the Smithsonian logo sunburst with the words "Smithsonian Design Museum".

How did the museum come to be Cooper Hewitt, and how did it join the Smithsonian Institution?

Cooper Hewitt's Permanent Collection

An orange chair shaped like a spinning top silhouetted against a white background.

Comprised of more than 215,000 objects, Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection spans over 30 centuries. Started by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt in the 1890s, the collection now features historical and contemporary design from around the globe.

Cooper Hewitt's Exhibition History

A museum gallery displaying hundreds of tools hanging from the ceiling and a red glowing sun in the background.

Explore highlights of exhibitions from Cooper Hewitt’s almost 50-year history.