Spy Museum Celebrates 20th Anniversary By Looking Back at 20 Milestones
July 19, 2022 – WASHINGTON - The year was 2002: Kelly Clarkson had just won the initial season of American Idol and the New England Patriots were trying on their Super Bowl rings for the first time in history. Plus, another first was on the scene: the International Spy Museum (SPY), the first-ever espionage museum had just opened its doors blocks from the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was a unique museum concept, one that many people said would fail. However, SPY was so successful that near the start of 2004, more than 1 million visitors had already passed through its doors, and it became a landmark destination – one that has become a must-do for locals and tourists alike in the Washington, DC area.
"Over the last twenty years, SPY has grown from what people thought would be a niche entertainment venue into a highly regarded nonprofit institution that's part of the DC fabric – a museum that is fun and also propelled by a powerful educational mission and a steadfast dedication to preserving espionage history," shared Chris Costa, executive director of the International Spy Museum. "For our birthday, we celebrate and recognize the dedication of our staff, volunteers, donors, visitors, and the DC community as well as the inspiring vision of Founder Milton Maltz. We can’t wait for what the next twenty years will bring."
On its 20th birthday, the institution celebrates the milestones experienced over the last twenty years:
1. July 2002: The International Spy Museum opens to an enormous crowd in Penn Quarter, Washington, DC, ready to usher visitors into the shadow world of spying.
2. Jan 2004: The Museum welcomes its 1 millionth visitor.
3. Aug 2006: The Spy Museum launches the popular Spy Camp for kids, where new “recruits” hone their tradecraft, learn from real former intelligence officers, and run missions around DC.
4. Nov 2006: SpyCast, SPY’s reputable podcast, launches with host Exec. Dir. Peter Earnest and, its first episode features Founding Board Member (and Argo inspiration) Tony Mendez.
5. Nov 2007: The Museum kicks off the first annual Festival of Trabants (in honor of the iconic Cold War car), which grows to be the largest gathering of Trabants in the United States.
6. June 2009: The Museum launches Spy in the City™, an innovative, GPS interactive device-led high-stakes operation that allows guests to test their spy skills out on the streets of DC.
7. Sept 2009: The Museum celebrates the milestone of 5 million visitors.
8. Aug 2010: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit the Spy Museum with first daughters Sasha and Malia.
9. Nov 2012: The Spy Museum premieres Exquisitely Evil, a James Bond special exhibit, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Bond film franchise, in partnership with EON Productions.
10. April 2016: SPY officially becomes a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
11. Dec 2016: The Spy Museum launches the first full-scale complimentary Access to SPY program for families with autistic children, transforming the exhibits into a comfortable sensory experience.
12. Sept 2017: The Spy Museum’s collection triples in size as a result of a generous pledged gift from Founding Board Member H. Keith Melton and his wife Karen Melton.
13. Nov 2017: The William H. Webster Distinguished Service Award is established to recognize excellence in the field of intelligence. The event helps SPY raise funds for its nonprofit mission.
14. May 2018: The Museum launches memory care programming for individuals with memory loss, partnering first with local senior centers and then opening programs up to the public, as well.
15. April 2019: In anticipation of the forthcoming grand re-opening, the Spy Museum organizes a spy sites scavenger hunt around the DMV, with dead drops and weekly prizes for players who decode clues about local espionage history correctly.
16. May 2019: SPY moves to a new, completely reimagined state-of-the-art facility at L’Enfant Plaza with expanded content, new artifacts, and a fully immersive interactive experience thanks to the generous contributions of SPY Founders Milton and Tamar Maltz and their family foundation.
17. April 2020: Guinness World Records names the Spy Museum the largest espionage museum in the world based on the size of its extraordinary artifact collection.
18. March-Dec 2020: SPY’s public programming went completely virtual for the first time ever in response to the pandemic, and its content reached nearly 4 million people in 2020 alone, with an audience spanning every state in the US and 60 additional countries.
19. March 2021: Spy Museum holds the first of its pop-up exhibits, Codes, Ciphers & Mysteries: NSA Treasures Tell Their Secrets, in partnership with the NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum, showcasing first-of-its-kind secure communications artifacts.
20. May 2021: In partnership with the WeGo Foundation, SPY holds the first of many sessions bringing pediatric patients into the exhibits with the help of the fantastic Robot, Patrice.
SPY will celebrate its 20th birthday on Tuesday, July 19 with festivities outside of the Museum for the local community featuring music from the year of its birth (2002), Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, giveaways, activities, a new 20th birthday scavenger hunt, and a partnership with the DC Public Library for its Summer Reading Day.
The International Spy Museum, an independent nonprofit organization, is the only public museum in the United States to lift the veil on the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage and intelligence from a global perspective. The mission of the International Spy Museum is to educate the public about espionage and intelligence in an engaging way and to provide a context that fosters understanding of their important role and impact on current and historic events. The Museum's collection chronicles the history of espionage, from its inception to the modern-day challenges facing intelligence professionals worldwide in the 21st century. The original Spy Museum opened in 2002. Its new, expanded building and all-new exhibitions opened in May 2019 to much acclaim.