The Centennial Exposition of 1876:
Engraving of the Centennial Exposition Building
The Centennial Exposition Building, Philadelphia, 1876

Baird's biggest opportunity to fulfill his dream for the United States National Museum arrived in the 1870s when he was appointed to an interagency committee to prepare
Mammal Exhibition
Mammal Exhibit at the
Centennial Exposition of 1876
the government exhibits for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. The Congressional appropriation for the government exhibit in Philadelphia contained an interesting proviso. It stated that the appropriation was considered a loan, and if income from the exhibition allowed the loan to be repaid, Congress would then allow part of those funds to be used to construct a new building for the National Museum.

Perhaps motivated in part by this possibility, and with help from a talented young assistant, George Brown Goode, Baird produced award winning exhibits that received great public acclaim and gave the Smithsonian national visibility. The exhibit consisted of two sections, one on the Smithsonian Institution itself, emphasizing its research programs, and a second section which focused on the natural history of North America, including botany, zoology, ethnology, and mineralogy. This section emphasized the economic importance of these natural resources. The government exhibition was considered by many to be the most successful section of this immensely popular exposition. Baird now had a national, even international, audience and acclaim for his museum program.

Bird Exhibition
Bird Exhibit at the
Centennial Exposition of 1876
Smithsonian exhibit floor
at the Centennial Exposition of 1876

Baird's most important triumph, however, came as he was able to convince most of the Centennial exhibitors to avoid the hassle and expense of shipping their
The Armory Building
The Armory Building
displays home by donating them to the Smithsonian. When the train pulled in to Washington, D.C., this time it had sixty box cars filled with materials for the National Museum. Finally Baird had exceeded the capacity of the Castle and so he stored his collections in the Armory Building until he secured Congressional appropriations for a National Museum building. At the close of this successful Centennial Exposition, the Congressional loan was repaid, by the exposition directors. Accordingly two years later, Congress allocated funds for the new National Museum Building (now known as the Arts and Industries Building).