History of The National

Look at the differences in The National over our 185 years.

December 7, 1835

The National Theatre opens in Washington, DC with a production of Man of the World, staged by Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street Theatre company.

1845 – 1850

The first of the theatre’s fires starts because of the oil used for lights. The theatre will reopen in 1850.

1862 – 1865

The National’s third building opens under the name of Grover’s National Theatre.

It is at Grover’s that Tad Lincoln learns of the assassination of his father. President Lincoln enjoyed attending performances at The National. Would history have been different if he was in our box that night instead of at Ford’s?

1885 – 1922

The National burns down for one last time. To our recollection, no one died in any of The National’s fires.

The theatre reopens later in 1885. The building undergoes additional renovations in 1922 and the structure of the theatre today is what was built in 1922.


The National closes its doors after management refuses to racially integrate audiences despite pressure from unions and leading artists.

The theatre reopens in 1952 as an integrated performing arts institution with a production of Call Me Madam.


The New National Theatre Corporation is established in D.C. as the non-profit that oversees the affairs of The National.


The National closes once again for renovations. It will reopen in 1984 and is largely the venue audiences see today.

President Ronald Reagan gives a speech following the production of 42nd Street to celebrate the reopening.

May 3, 2021

The non-profit changed its name from The National Theatre Corporation to The National Theatre Foundation to better align with the non-profit nature of the organization.