The museum offers many tours, including the popular "1900 to Now: An Introduction to the East Building Collection" and "American Collection". In addition, tours of the collection are offered in American Sign Language (ASL). Tours of the permanent collection are offered free of charge in Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, and Spanish.
The museum was privately established in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction. The core collection also includes major works of art donated by Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Brown Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale.