The Smithsonian's Sports Collection was started in 1882 by George Brown Goode (1851-1896). Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Goode profoundly influenced this institution and museum practice in general by incorporating American ideals, consumer culture, and popular interests into the museum's collections and exhibits.
"The people's museum should be much more than a house full of specimens in glass cases. It should be a house full of ideas," Goode wrote. In the late nineteenth century, he began collecting objects representative of everyday life for the Smithsonian, including sporting goods. On May 26, 1882, over 35 pieces of sports and entertainment equipment arrived from the Peck & Snyder Company of New York. These objects are the earliest—though not the oldest—artifacts in the National Museum of American History's sports collection. In the decades after Goode's death in 1896, few sports objects were acquired. Some exceptions included baseball memorabilia as baseball was considered the National sport. Presidential sports equipment also came into the national collections.
Today, the much-enlarged collection primarily resides in the Division of Cultural History under the care of cultural historian Dr. Ellen Roney Hughes and Collections Manager Jane Rogers. This unit is part of the curatorial entity formed in 1977 to research, exhibit and collect the history of entertainment, leisure, and sports. The primary purpose of the sports endeavor is to show sports in the context of American history. Now, the sports collection alone includes approximately 6,000 objects, varying from bowling balls to Olympic medals to gym suits. Important and influential athletes and sports enthusiasts have a place in the collection, resulting from the donations of figures such as Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, Brian Boitano, and Lance Armstrong. Paper artifacts, such as sports cards, number in the hundreds of thousands and are housed in the Museum's Archive Center. Although these are the repositories of the largest number of sports objects, other units of this Museum and other Smithsonian Museums also have sports-related collections.Sports objects from the National Museum of American History are in demand throughout the Smithsonian, as well as other institutions around the country. Smithsonian Affiliates, including Durham Western Heritage Museum, and presidential libraries, such as Gerald Ford Library, borrow artifacts in order to show traits identifiable on a personal level to visitors, and to use sports as a context for examining history.