"Many of these puppets have been in boxes for years. They've been tucked away in boxes, and we don't want them to stay in boxes. We want people to see them and to appreciate them," Cheryl Henson said. "There's something about puppets. They're not animated. ... They are actual, physical things."
Miss Piggy will go on display in March 2014 in the Smithsonian's "American Stories" exhibit. The original Kermit and Cookie Monster will go on view in November in a special display case, and a puppetry exhibit in early 2014 will likely feature Bert and Ernie, among others, curators said.
The Hensons have a longtime connection to Washington. Jim and Jane Henson met as students at the nearby University of Maryland and became performing partners before they married. They made early television commercials with their puppets and created a local TV show, "Sam and Friends," which included the first Kermit creation.
The original Kermit, made from an old coat and pingpong balls for eyes, was donated to the Smithsonian in 2010, along with other characters from "Sam and Friends."
The newest donation includes Boober Fraggle, Red Fraggle and Travelling Matt from the 1980s show "Fraggle Rock." The Hensons also donated a 1957 puppet called Wilkins that was made for Wilkins Coffee commercials.
Erickson and others who worked with Henson gathered Tuesday at the museum for a donation ceremony and said the Muppets will have a new life among the relics of history. The puppets were never meant to be made for posterity, Erickson said, but "considering that they're retired, they're looking absolutely wonderful."
Fran Brill, the first woman puppeteer Henson hired for "Sesame Street," who created the characters of Zoe and Prairie Dawn, said Henson had created a puppet family with his many collaborators.