National Museum of American History
Director: John L. Gray
Total Full-Time Employees: 223
FY 2015 Federal and Trust Budget: $44 million
Approximate Number of Artifacts and Archival Materials: 1.8 million Artifacts and 17,000 cubic feet of Archival Materials
Visitors: 4 million in 2015
Opened in January 1964 as the National Museum of History and Technology, the museum was renamed the National Museum of American History in October 1980 to more accurately reflect its scope of interests and responsibilities. The museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., near the Washington Monument.
The transformation of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History continues with a major project to renew the building’s 120,000-square-foot west exhibition wing. The project features new galleries and exhibitions on democracy and culture, an education center, interior public plazas and performance spaces as well as modernizing the infrastructure, including wireless environments. In 2008, the museum completed a two-year, $85 million renovation of the building’s center core, transforming the museum’s architectural appeal.
The museum is responsible for the acquisition, care and preservation of more than 3 million objects and archival materials, representing the nation’s heritage in the areas of science, technology, sociology and culture. The collections include the Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies gowns, a Samuel Morse telegraph, locomotives, tools, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, an Alexander Graham Bell telephone, flags, American-made quilts, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, Duke Ellington’s sheet music and presidential artifacts.
Selected Permanent Exhibitions
- Star-Spangled Banner: An abstract flag, 40 feet long and up to 19 feet high, soars above the entrance to the Star-Spangled Banner gallery. Inside, the 30-by-34-foot wool-and-cotton flag that inspired the national anthem is displayed in a setting with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, designed to evoke the “dawn’s early light.”
- America on the Move: This 26,000-square-foot exhibition features more than 300 artifacts—from the 1903 Winton that was the first car to traverse the United States to the 199-ton,
92-foot-long “1401” locomotive—showcased in period settings.
- American Enterprise: This exhibition tells the story of the nation’s business, centering on themes of opportunity, innovation, competition and the search for common good in the American marketplace. American Enterprise conveys the drama, breadth and diversity of America’s business heritage along with its benefits, failures and unanticipated consequences, through four chronological sections.
- FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000: This exhibition explores how new technologies and various social and cultural shifts in the second half of the 20th century influenced major changes in food, wine and eating in America.
- Price of Freedom: Americans at War: A survey of the U.S. military history from the Colonial era to the present, this 18,000-square-foot exhibition explores ways that wars have been defining episodes in American history.
- The First Ladies: This exhibition looks at the ways first ladies have shaped their role as the role of women in society evolved. This display features more than two dozen gowns, including those of Michelle Obama, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Jacqueline Kennedy. Four cases provide in-depth looks at Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln, Edith Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson and their contributions to their husband’s presidential administrations.
- The American Presidency: This exhibition explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 44 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years.
- American Stories: With more than 100 objects, this exhibition showcases historic and cultural touchstones of American history through more than 100 objects from the museum’s vast holdings, including Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, the rarely displayed walking stick used by Benjamin Franklin, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and a fragment of Plymouth Rock.
- Wegmans Wonderplace: This is the first gallery on the National Mall designed for children 0 to 6. For the next 20 years, this 1,700-square-foot center will provide the youngest historians with age-appropriate activities. The gallery features more than 100 objects and six sections each of play-based interdisciplinary experiences, combining artifact displays with fun hands-on activities to engage young children and their families.
The museum has an innovative and successful digital outreach. From its websites to its blog and social-networking presence, millions of visitors experience the museum on-screen. Digital interaction has become increasingly integral to the museum’s outreach activities and a natural extension of its educational goals and philosophy.
About the Museum
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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