Even before 007 first introduced himself as "Bond, James Bond" and requested martinis shaken, not stirred, the public has been captivated by spies.
And soon, they'll be able to indulge their curiosity about espionage further when the International Spy Museum opens in Washington, D.C. on July 19.
It will teach visitors about spies through the ages.
"The museum is not about celebrating spies or espionage," said Executive Director Peter Earnest, a former CIA officer. "What this does show is that spies have changed the course of history."
Though the project has been underway for more than three years, recent events make the museum's opening particularly timely.
"People have always been fascinated by spies and spying because of the intrigue and romance," Earnest said. "But there's been a resurgence of interest. Sept. 11 was an enormous catalyst."
That renewed hype stems from the heightened awareness of just how important espionage is to war and other world events.
"People have this day-in, day-out realization that intelligence is playing a major role in national security," said Earnest. "We're now in a different period, and I think the interest in spying is as high as ever."
The museum was set up to be more than just an array of exhibits.
Those strolling through its rooms will learn, for instance, that George Washington is considered the father of American intelligence because he paid a network of spies to work for him, left secret messages in hidden places and relied on a number of other espionage techniques.
"It takes the visitor sequentially from the beginnings of spying through successive periods," Earnest explained. "We want to help the visitor have a sense of the role of spies in history."
Housed in the museum is the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever on public display.
Among them is the World War II-era German cipher machine called the Enigma, which will be accompanied by an interactive exhibit showing how it worked. Though it resembles nothing more than a small typewriter, it was actually used to decipher messages written in code by the Germans. British and American allies jointly broke that sought-after code, which was a major coup in the war.
"Historians attribute a number of ally victories to breaking the code," Earnest said.
Other artifacts that will be featured are a shoe transmitter — a listening device hidden in the heel of a target's shoe used by the Soviets; assassination pistols disguised as other objects; and a "through the wall" Czech camera used for clandestine photography.
In addition to a host of changing exhibits, different displays and rooms in the museum will have different themes.
One will be about celebrity spies like TV chef Julia Child, who worked for the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA) before she cooked her way to fame; actress Marlene Dietrich, who recorded popular songs for the OSS that were used as American propaganda targeting German soldiers; and singer Josephine Baker, who worked on behalf of the French resistance.
Another called "Sisterhood of Spies" will center on important women in espionage. There also will be rooms focusing on espionage in pop culture, double agents and what it takes to become a spy.
Before the terrorist attacks, it was predicted that half a million visitors a year would come to the museum. Since Washington has experienced a drop in tourists, Earnest said the new D.C. museum's traffic might be lower than expected, but added that the public's increased fascination with espionage since 9/11 could help.
"I would be interested [in going] if I were in Washington," said Dave Ebersole, 23, a student from Philadelphia. "Spies are cool. It's a history you don't know."
Added Kristen Bloom, 31, a marketing associate from Baltimore: "I might go just to do something different. It's intriguing. It's something that goes way back."
The museum, located a block from the FBI building, will be open every day except Christmas from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission will be $11 for adults, $8 for children and students in kindergarten through 12th grade and free for children under five.