The Dwight D. Eisenhower Institute for Historical Research was originally conceived as a center for the study of war-related issues and the contributions of the military establishment. It was to be an integral part of a proposed National Armed Forces Museum which would be a Smithsonian bureau. Although the Museum and the Institute eventually became two distinct entities, their histories are linked by this common origin and by the later transfer of staff and records.
An act of Congress in 1961 established the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board (NAFMAB) to begin planning for the museum, the study center, and the acquisition of a suitable site. An administrative history of the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board can be found in record unit 581.
By 1973 prospects for building a National Armed Forces Museum had dimmed considerably, and the Smithsonian moved to establish the Eisenhower Institute in the National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT). Forrest C. Pogue was named director of the Institute, under the broad supervision of the NMHT Director in cooperation with the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board.
The activities of the Institute included research, publications, lectures, and conferences concerning the contributions of the armed forces to American society and culture. Pogue was allowed to continue his research on General George C. Marshall.
In its first full year of operation, 1975, the Eisenhower Institute reported to the Department of National and Military History, but in 1976 the Institute assumed separate status under the director. In 1979 Pogue's title changed to historian and James S. Hutchins, past Director of NAFMAB, joined him as historian. In 1980 the name of the Museum changed to the National Museum of American History (NMAH).
By 1984, Hutchins had moved to the Division of Armed Forces History, where he remained as historian, 1984- . Pogue retired at the end of 1984. The remainder of the staff members were reassigned; and the Eisenhower Institute, never a priority of Smithsonian management, became inactive.