In 1862, amid the American Civil War, Surgeon General William Hammond established the Army Medical Museum to serve as a center for the collection of specimens for research in military medicine and surgery. Hammond directed medical officers in the field to collect "specimens of morbid anatomy together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed" and to forward them to the newly founded museum for study.

The museum's first curator, John Brinton, visited mid-Atlantic battlefields and solicited contributions from doctors throughout the Union Army. During and after the war, museum staff took pictures of wounded soldiers showing the effects of gunshot wounds, as well as the results of amputations and other surgical procedures. The information collected was compiled into six volumes of "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion," published between 1870 and 1883.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, museum staff engaged in various types of medical research. They pioneered photomicrographic techniques and led the museum into research on infectious diseases. Museum staff proved the cause of yellow fever, contributed to research on vaccinations for typhoid fever, and during World War I, were involved in vaccination research and campaigns and general health education campaigns, including major efforts to combat sexually transmissible diseases.

By World War II, research at the museum focused increasingly on pathology. In 1946, the museum became a division of the new Army Institute of Pathology, which developed into the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 1949. The museum's library and part of its archives were transferred to the National Library of Medicine when it was formed in 1956. The Army Medical Museum then became the Medical Museum of the AFIP in 1949, the Armed Forces Medical Museum in 1974, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine in 1989.

In the early 1990s, the museum acquired two internationally famous research collections: one consisting of neuroanatomical specimens from the AFIP, and one large developmental anatomy collection from the Carnegie Institute of Science's Department of Embryology. The acquisition of these two collections safeguards historically important contributions to medicine and science and provides access to modern research opportunities.

The museum exhibits and collections resided in a variety of locations until the 1970s when it was on the campus of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In 2011 it moved to Silver Spring, Maryland and became part of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (now known as the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command).

On Aug. 23, 2015, the museum joined the Defense Health Agency as a division of the Research and Engineering Directorate.


Robert S. Henry's "The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: Its First Century 1862-1962" (Office of the Army Surgeon General Army, 1964) (PDF 41 MB).

In 2011, prior to its disestablishment, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology published "Legacy of Excellence: The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, 1862–2011.". "Legacy of Excellence" was published by the Borden Institute, the publishing arm of the U.S. Army Medical Department. Find Legacy of Excellence online at https://medcoe.army.mil/borden-tb-loe.

Relevant Links

Former Locations of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Micrograph
Check out the Micrograph to learn about significant figures in NMHM history.