Among the Smithsonian's earliest ceramic and glass artifacts were those acquired at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and from archeological sites throughout North America. Edward Foreman, Curator for the ethnological collections at the United States National Museum (USNM), cataloged ceramic artifacts from 1881 to 1883, as did his successor, Otis T. Mason, from 1884 to 1902. The curator for the Section of Historical Collections, A. Howard Clark, cataloged glass artifacts during the same years.
In 1897, the Section of Ceramics was established in the Division of Ethnology, Department of Anthropology. The glass collections were added to the Section but remained the curatorial responsibility of Clark, Curator of the newly organized Division of History. Paul Edmond Beckwith, Assistant Curator for the Division of History, was responsible for the Section from 1903 to 1907. From 1907 to 1920, a National Gallery of Art (NGA) was established and administered by USNM, and selections of contemporary porcelain and glass were placed with NGA during this period.
From 1908 to 1935, the Section of Ceramics became the curatorial responsibility of Walter Hough, Curator of Ethnology. Mrs. Julian James, a patron of the Division of History at USNM, assisted Hough with maintaining the collections, as did private collectors and donors such as Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore and Olive Risley Seward. Samuel W. Woodhouse served as Collaborator of the Section from 1933 to 1943. In 1935, Herbert W. Krieger replaced Hough as Curator of Ethnology and was responsible for the Section.
In 1957, the Section was removed from the Division of Ethnology to become the Division of Ceramics and Glass, Department of Arts and Manufactures (and successor departments). In 1978, the Division transferred to the Department of Cultural History and continued under its successor departments. Additional details on the history of the Division are located in the introductions to the Departments of Social and Cultural History and the History of Science and Technology.
Curators and staff of the Division included Paul V. Gardner, Acting Curator, 1958-1960, Associate Curator, 1961, Curator, 1962-1977, and Curator Emeritus, 1978- ; J. Jefferson Miller II, Assistant Curator, 1962, Associate Curator, 1963-1969, Curator, 1970-1977, Consultant, 1978, and Curator Emeritus, 1979- ; Susan H. Myers, Assistant Curator, 1980-1983, and Curator, 1984- ; and Ivor Noel Hume, Research Associate, 1980-1984.