Washington — An energy businessman is donating a record $35 million to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to build a new dinosaur hall on the National Mall, the museum complex announced Thursday.
The donation by David H. Koch, the executive vice president of Koch Industries Inc. of Wichita, Kan., is the single largest gift in the museum's 102-year history. The Smithsonian Board of Regents voted Monday to name the new dinosaur hall in Koch's honor.
Koch, an engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a billionaire who lives in New York City. He was the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980 and has been a major donor to conservative political causes, as well as to educational, medical and cultural groups.
Koch previously gave the Smithsonian $15 million in 2009 to build a new exhibit hall exploring human evolution over 6 million years. The museum's Hall of Human Origins also was named in his honor.
In 2006, he gave $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to create the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing. And in 2008, he gave a record $100 million to New York's Lincoln Center to renovate the former New York State Theater.
The Smithsonian's dinosaur hall has remained unchanged for more than 30 years and has grown outdated with advances in paleontology. The current exhibit gallery began as the "Hall of Extinct Monsters" when the museum opened in 1910. Still, the museum has amassed one of the most comprehensive collections of fossils and a well-regarded staff of paleobiologists conducting research.
Museum officials said the renovation will be the largest and most complex overhaul in its history and will showcase its collection of 46 million fossils and current research. Dinosaurs have long been one of the most popular exhibits, said Cristian Samper, the museum's director.
Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough thanked Koch for helping to update the museum.
"Millions of Americans and visitors from all over the world will learn and be inspired for years to come," Clough said in announcing the gift.
It will take about seven years to overhaul the dinosaur exhibit, museum spokesman Randall Kremer said. The existing dinosaur hall will remain open to visitors until spring 2014. Then more than 10,000 bones and fragile specimens will have to be removed from the current exhibition before construction begins. The project is expected to cost $45 million. The renovation follows major updates to all of the public spaces in the museum, which attracts about 7 million visitors annually. The museum's halls devoted to mammals and oceans also have been overhauled in the past decade.
During construction, select dinosaur specimens will remain on view in other public areas of the museum.