In 1963, the predecessor to the Museum Conservation Institute was established by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents to respond to the growing need for a scientific laboratory to support conservation of collections in the entire Institution. A newly graduated conservator, a chemist and a secretary with a background in the arts comprised the first staff of what was known then as the Conservation Research Laboratory.

The name of the laboratory was changed to the Conservation Analytical Laboratory in 1965, to better reflect the needs of its constituents. With its move to the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md., in 1983, the laboratory accepted a wider range of responsibilities, including a congressionally mandated national conservation training program and expanded scientific research program in conservation. In 1998, the Board of Regents approved the name change Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education—in recognition of the laboratory’s mission to serve national and international museum communities, as well as the Smithsonian, and provide professional training and education programs. The latest name change to Museum Conservation Institute, in 2006, reaffirms the central role of the unit to provide highly technical conservation science to support the Smithsonian museums and collections.