The United States Botanic Garden traces its beginning to 1816, when the constitution of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C., proposed the creation of a botanic garden to collect, grow, and distribute plants of this and other countries that might contribute to the welfare of the American people. The Institute's garden was established by Congress in 1820 to the west of the Capitol Grounds, extending from First Street to Third Street between Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues. This facility functioned until shortly after the organization stopped holding meetings in 1837.
In 1842, the idea of a national botanic garden was reestablished when the return of the United States Exploring Expedition to the South Seas (the Wilkes Expedition) brought to Washington a collection of living plants from around the globe. Placed initially in a specially constructed greenhouse behind the Old Patent Office Building, the plants were moved in late 1850 into a new structure on the site previously occupied by the Columbian Institute's garden.
The Garden was moved to its present main location at First Street and Maryland Avenue, S.W., in 1933. This facility includes a conservatory and 2 acres of outside grounds. Across Independence Avenue are the Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi Park, an outdoor display area, and an administration building. A plant production facility newly constructed in Anacostia includes greenhouse bays and a support facility. Plans are under way to use three acres directly west of the conservatory as the National Garden, which is being funded by the National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden.
The Architect of the Capitol has served as Acting Director of the United States Botanic Garden since 1934. Under the direction of the Joint Committee on the Library, which is charged by law with control over the Garden, the Architect is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Garden and for any construction, changes, or improvements made.