The Section of Steam Transportation was the first curatorial division in the United States National Museum (USNM) responsible for mechanical, technical, and scientific objects in the collection. The Section was established in 1886, with J. Elfreth Watkins as Honorary Curator. Two years later the Section was renamed the Section of Transportation and Engineering with Watkins as Curator. William Crawford Winlock succeeded Watkins and was named Honorary Curator of Apparatus in 1891; he served until 1895. Watkins rejoined the Smithsonian in 1895 as Curator of the Section of Technological Collections; later he was Custodian of the Electrical Collections in 1896 and Curator of the Technological Collections in 1897.
In 1898 a major reorganization occurred in the USNM. That year the Division of Technology (Mechanical Phases) became part of the Department of Anthropology, with Watkins as Curator of the Division, serving until his death in 1903. George C. Maynard, who originally served as Aid and Custodian in the Division, was appointed Assistant Curator in 1901. In 1904 the Division was renamed the Division of Technology. In 1912 its name was changed to the Division of Mechanical Technology with Maynard as Curator until 1918.
From 1904 to 1913 the Department of Mineral Technology with Charles D. Walcott as Honorary Curator had only nominal recognition, but was given full curatorial status as the Division of Mineral Technology in 1913 with Chester G. Gilbert as Curator. Carl W. Mitman joined the Division as Assistant Curator in 1916. In 1918 Joseph E. Pogue was appointed Assistant Curator.
In 1919 the Department of Arts and Industries was established with the Division of Mineral Technology reporting to that Department while the Division of Mechanical Technology was still under Anthropology. Gilbert and Pogue were each Curator and Mitman was Assistant Curator in Mineral Technology. In 1920 both divisions were placed under Arts and Industries; Gilbert was named Honorary Curator, staying until 1935. Mitman was promoted to Curator of Mechanical Technology in 1920 and Curator of Mineral and Mechanical Technology from 1921 to 1931.Other curators included Paul M. Frank, Assistant Curator of Mineral Technology, 1922; Paul E. Garber, Assistant Curator, 1925-1931; and Frank A. Taylor, Assistant Curator, 1929-1931.
A major reorganization in the USNM occurred in 1932, with the Division of Engineering and Industries under the Department of Arts and Industries. Engineering had sections of Mechanical Technology, Aeronautics, and Mineral Technology. Staff included Mitman, Curator of the Division, 1932, and in Charge of Mineral Technology, 1932-1938; Taylor, Assistant Curator of Mechanical Technology, 1932, Curator of the Division and in Charge of Mechanical Technology,1933-1938; and Garber, Assistant Curator of Aeronautics.
Another reorganization occurred in 1939 when the Division was placed under the Department of Engineering and Industries. The Division, with Taylor as Curator, included sections of Transportation and Civil Engineering, Aeronautics, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Communications, Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, Tools, and Physical Sciences and Measurement. Garber continued as Assistant Curator and Associate Curator of Aeronautics, 1942-1946; Fred C. Reed, Acting Associate Curator of Aeronautics,1943-1946; Mitman, Curator of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering; and Taylor in charge of the last Section.
In 1947 a reorganization occurred at the section level with Engineering responsible for Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Marine Transportation, Land Transportation, Electricity, and Physical Science and Measurement. Taylor continued as Curator of the Division until 1948 when he was named Acting Curator. Smith Hempstone Oliver was appointed Associate Curator of Land Transportation in 1947 and in 1948, Kenneth M. Parry as Associate Curator of Electricity. In 1954 Robert P. Multauf was appointed Associate Curator of the Division and Curator in 1955.He was also in charge of the sections of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Tools, and Physical Science and Measurement; Parry was Associate Curator of Marine Transportation and Electricity; and Oliver, Associate Curator of Land Transportation and Horology, a new Section in 1955.