The NNDC traces its roots back to 1952, when the name Brookhaven Neutron Cross Section Compilation Group was adopted for a group in the Physics Department at BNL, which was then headed by Donald J. Hughes. This group published the first edition of the well-known reference book BNL-325 (Neutron Cross Sections) in 1955.
In 1960, after the death of Donald Hughes, the Sigma Center was moved to the Reactor Physics Division of the Nuclear Engineering (NE) Department to continue this work. Dr. John R. Stehn was hired to head the Center. The Cross Section Evaluation Group was formed in the same division at about the same time under the leadership of nuclear theorist Dr. Charles E. Porter. These groups were loosely affiliated, sharing some support personnel. After the death of Dr. Porter in 1964, John Stehn became acting head of both groups. He was succeeded by Sol Pearlstein as head of the Evaluation Group and Murrey Goldberg as head of the Sigma Center.
In 1967, the two groups were merged and the new Center was designated as the National Neutron Cross Section Center (NNCSC) by the Atomic Energy Commission. Dr. Sol Pearlstein was named acting director (Brookhaven Bulletin 9/21/67). In 1968, Dr. Pearlstein was appointed Director of the NNCSC (Brookhaven Bulletin 8/8/68). The NNDC's early history is described by S. Pearlstein in "The NNCSC: its history and functions" Nuclear News, November 1970, 73.
In 1977, the Center was given the additional responsibility for nuclear structure and decay data by the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), the predecessor of the Department of Energy, and its name was then changed to the National Nuclear Data Center (Brookhaven Bulletin 2/25/77).
Dr. Charles Dunford served as Center Head from 1992 to 2002, with the exception of a two-year leave of absence (1993-1995) when he served as Section Head for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nuclear Data Section. During his leave of absence Mulki Bhat was named Acting Center Head.
In February 2002, he was succeeded by Dr. Pavel Oblozinsky.
In January 2009, Dr. Michal Herman succeeded Pavel Oblozinsky as the Center Head.
Alejandro Sonzogni then succeeded Michal Herman as Center Head in September 2016.
David Brown is currently the head of the NNDC, and has held the position since June 2021.
In 2006, the NNDC reached an important milestone: "1 million plus" web database retrievals in FY2006 (Brookhaven Bulletin 10/20/2006).
The NNDC's web services and their history are described by
B. Pritychenko et.al "Nuclear reaction and structure data services of the National Nuclear Data Center"
in Annals of Nuclear Energy 33 (2006) 390.
By 2018, this had grown to 4 million plus retrievals annually.