The Office of Public Affairs had its origins in the editorial and publication division of the Smithsonian Institution (SI), which had long been disbursing news about events and exhibitions. In 1965 a separate Office of Information, reporting to the Secretary, was created, in part to deal with festivities and events surrounding the Smithson Bicentennial. B. Richard Berg was appointed Director and George J. Berklacy, press officer. The new office issued press releases, answered public inquiries, maintained a system of recorded telephone announcements, arranged for the production of films, and dealt, in general, with the media.
The Office of Public Affairs, reporting to the Assistant Secretary for Public Service, was established in 1968. It was charged with publicizing the programs of the Smithsonian through a broad range of methods of communications, from radio to films to special events. Initially the office provided services including tours, visitor booths, publications, recorded messages, news releases, information leaflets, and the answering of public inquiries.
Frederic M. Philips served as Director, 1968-1972. He was succeeded by Carl W. Larsen, who held the position 1972-1978. In 1977 Lawrence E. Taylor assumed the title of Coordinator of Public Information, with the offices of public affairs, congressional liaison, and special events under his direction. In 1984 Taylor retired and the Office of Public Affairs again reported to the Assistant Secretary for Public Service. Alvin Rosenfeld served as the Director of the Office of Public Affairs,1979-1986. Madeleine Jacobs was Director, 1987- .