History of The National

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

Below are some highlights from The National Theatre’s long history. For a more in-depth timeline comparing the institution’s history to major events throughout the United States, visit A Brief History of The National Theatre.

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.


The first of the theatre’s fires starts because of the oil used for lights. The theatre will reopen in 1850 to accommodate the visit of legendary singer Jenny Lind.


After changing management several times, The National Theatre burns down again in 1857. It reopens in a1862 as Grover’s National Theatre, named after then-manager Leonard Grover.


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


The National burns down twice more in 1873 and 1885, but each time is rebuilt quickly, demonstrated its integrality to the city’s performing arts scene.


The National Theatre building undergoes significant renovations. By and large, the structure built then is the same one that stands today.


The National closes its doors after management refuses to racially integrate audiences despite pressure from unions and leading artists. It was briefly converted into a movie theater.


The National reopens as an integrated performing arts venue with a production of Call Me Madam starring Ethel Merman.


The National Theatre comes under the management of the Nederlander Organization for the first time.


The New National Theatre Corporation is established in D.C. as the non-profit that oversees the affairs of The National. It joins forces with the Kennedy Center for booking services but later declares its independence in 1979.


The New National Theatre Corporation hands management of the theatre over to the Shubert Organization.


The National closes for renovations resulting in the venue audiences see today. President Ronald Reagan gives a speech following the production of 42nd Street to celebrate the reopening in 1984.


JAM Theatricals and Philadelphia’s SMG assume management of the theatre from the Shubert Organization.


The Nederlander organization returns to management of The National after acquiring JAM Theatricals.


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