The U.S. Virtual Astronomical Observatory was a software infrastructure and development project designed both to begin the establishment of an operational Virtual Observatory (VO) and to provide the U.S. coordination with the international VO effort. The concept of the VO is to provide the means by which an astronomer is able to discover, access, and process data seamlessly, regardless of its physical location. This paper describes the origins of the VAO, including the predecessor efforts within the U.S. National Virtual Observatory, and summarizes its main accomplishments. These accomplishments include the development of both scripting toolkits that allow scientists to incorporate VO data directly into their reduction and analysis environments and high-level science applications for data discovery, integration, analysis, and catalog cross-comparison. Working with the international community, and based on the experience from the software development, the VAO was a major contributor to international standards within the International Virtual Observatory Alliance. The VAO also demonstrated how an operational virtual observatory could be deployed, providing a robust operational environment in which VO services worldwide were routinely checked for aliveness and compliance with international standards. Finally, the VAO engaged in community outreach, developing a comprehensive web site with on-line tutorials, announcements, links to both U.S. and internationally developed tools and services, and exhibits and hands-on training .... All digital products of the VAO Project, including software, documentation, and tutorials, are stored in a repository for community access. The enduring legacy of the VAO is an increasing expectation that new telescopes and facilities incorporate VO capabilities during the design of their data management systems.