NASA Lewis Research Center is located on 351.32 acres of land in Cuyahoga County at the southwest boundary of the city of Cleveland, Ohio, adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Authorized by Act of Congress in June 1940, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics acquired the original parcel of land comprising 199.7 acres from the city in 1940 for $500. Ground was broken for the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL) on January 23, 1941. Research was initiated in May 1942. Formal Dedication Ceremonies were held on May 20, 1943. The laboratory was renamed the Flight Propulsion Research Laboratory on April 18, 1947, and the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (LFPL) on September 28, 1948 in honor of George W Lewis, who had been the NACA director of aeronautical research from 1924 to 1947.
 In 1952, to compensate for the loss of land no longer usable because of the expansion of the airport, the center acquired 9.8 acres known as the North Area in 1952 from the city of Cleveland. The Developmental Engineering Building (DEB) was constructed on this land in 1964.
In 1958, upon the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the laboratory was renamed Lewis Research Center (LeRC). Between 1958 and 1962 the laboratory acquired an additional 139.7 acres, known as the West Area, located in the Rocky River Valley adjacent to the Rocky River Reservation, part of the Metro Parks System. Additional facilities were built in this area in the 1960s.
Between 1956 and 1977 Lewis managed the Plum Brook Station, near Sandusky, Ohio, about 50 miles from the center. Plum Brook Station was established to provide a more remote location for major facilities and test operations that were potentially hazardous, such as nuclear rocket testing. Originally known as the Plum Brook Army Ordnance Works, approximately 500 acres of land leased by the NACA from the U.S. Army in 1956 as the site for a nuclear reactor. By 1963 NASA had acquired ownership from the U. S. Army of the original parcel and additional land used for static tests of rocket systems. As of June 1968, NASA owned 5981 acres. Between 1969 and 1971 NASA purchased an additional 2100 acres to serve as a buffer zone. Because of the costs of the space shuttle, long-range development projects like nuclear and electric propulsion had to be curtailed. In 1973, NASA announced that Plum Brook, with its $200 million in facilities, would be closed. In 1977 Plum Brook was put on limited stand-by status, and the Space Power Complex was leased to the Garrett Corporation. In April 1983, about 1500 acres of land on the perimeter of the station were sold.