1976, during America’s bicentennial celebrations, the federal
government encouraged all of its agencies to develop exhibits that
highlighted the history of that particular agency. A Special Agent
with DEA’s Office of Training began collecting law enforcement
badges worn by early narcotics agents. These badges spanned the
entire period of time since federal drug law enforcement began in
1914. The seed of the DEA Museum had been planted.
Over the course of the next twenty years, that seed would slowly
grow as agents and other employees continued to collect objects,
photographs, documents and oral histories from individuals involved
in battling drugs and drug trafficking. In 1989 space was set aside
in Arlington, Virginia for the construction of a museum that would
tell the story of drug law enforcement in America. It was quickly
realized, however, that you can not tell the story of DEA without
telling the story of drugs and drug addiction in the United States.
What began as an opportunity to commemorate the lives and accomplishments
of federal agents evolved into a broader mission to present the
history of substance abuse in this country and the ongoing role
that government has played in addressing that problem. In 1997 a
small team of DEA employees began to sift through the collection
of boxes that had grown from a few old badges in 1976 to a room
full of material.
By 1999 the Museum had gathered momentum and funding and the facility
with its first exhibit was opened. “Illegal
Drugs in America: A Modern History” received critical
acclaim from the press and public alike for the accurate portrayal
of the more than 150 year history of drugs and drug abuse and the
DEA. In 2001 the
DEA Educational Foundation was formed. A 501(c)3 non-profit educational
organization, the Foundation exists as a partner with DEA to support
the Museum through fundraising, advocacy and educational outreach.
In order to enhance the Museum’s ability to tell a broader and more complete story, an effort began in mid-2001 to expand the Museumís gallery space. A second, changing exhibit gallery was opened in September 2002. The first exhibit in that space, “Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists and You” was designed as the Museum’s first traveling exhibit. “Target America” left the DEA Museum and began a successful nation-wide tour in September 2003. The Museum’s changing gallery has continued to host various topical exhibits including, “DEA: Air, Land & Sea” and “Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America.”
As the DEA Museum continues to expand its programming and displays,
more and more people are being impacted by the long, complex and
tragic history of drugs in America. It is the mission of the Museum
to present that history and to help visitors understand and learn
from our collective past in the hope of impacting the future.