Beginning in the 1880s, military collections were curated by the Section of Historical Relics, United States National Museum, and its various successors through to the Division of History. In 1935, the Division established the Military and Naval Collection, and, in 1947, it formed a Section of Military History. The Section was given Division status in 1948 and was placed under the direction of Mendel L. Peterson. Additional details on the history of the Division are located in Record Unit 383, and in the introduction to the Department of Social and Cultural History, Guide to the Smithsonian Archives, 1996.
The Division of Military History was responsible for tracing the historical development of the United States Army from its inception as a colonial militia to its current role in the missile age. Research focused on United States Army firearms, artillery, ammunition, edged weapons, uniforms, medals, and flags. In addition to collecting military and foreign artifacts the Division published military histories and conducted studies of arms collections in other museums.
Staff members of the Division included Craddock R. Goins, Jr., Curator, 1959- , and Donald E. Kloster, Associate Curator, 1973- .