News Releases

Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street Program Explores Importance of Work in American Life

“The Way We Worked” Exhibition Will Tour Beginning Fall 2011

June 29, 2011

Work and the workplace have gone through enormous changes between the mid-19th century, when 60 percent of Americans made their living as farmers, and the early 21st century. The newest traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program, “The Way We Worked,” celebrates the history of work in America. It tells the stories of how hard-working Americans of every ethnicity, class, gender and age power the nation.

Five copies of the exhibition will begin simultaneous tours of Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia in September and October 2011. Complete tour information is available online at “The Way We Worked” was created by the National Archives and is organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). MoMS is a partnership of SITES and state humanities councils.

“The work that each of us does every day speaks volumes about who we are as individuals, as communities and as a country,” said Anna R. Cohn, director of SITES. “We all have our own work journeys, and each one of these jobs reflects the various kinds of work that has and continues to build and strengthen the nation.”

“The Way We Worked” brings to light the who, what, where, why and how of Americans at work. It explores the places Americans worked, from farms to factories and mines to restaurants, as well as in homes. It examines not only the effects of technology and automation, but also how workers striving for better working conditions, wages and hours, and an end to racial and gender discrimination, changed America’s work history. The exhibition illustrates how America’s workforce is as diverse as the nation itself. Dreams of new jobs and opportunities led millions to America’s shores. “The Way We Worked” provides some answers to why people work—from simply paying the bills to pursuing a calling, serving the country and giving back to the community. It explores what work tells people about each other. Whole communities may become known by the work that happens there, like Idaho’s Silver Valley with its strong mining heritage.

“The Way We Worked” is accompanied by a cell-phone tour that allows visitors to access additional details provided by exhibition curator, Bruce Bustard, senior curator for the National Archives. Callers will also be able to listen to featured stories from each of the five participating states. MoMS worked with the National Archives and partnered with host state humanities councils to develop content for the cell-phone tour.

The photos featured in the exhibition come from the vast collection of the National Archives, which is home to thousands of photos of work and workplaces taken by government agencies. The images featured in “The Way We Worked,” though possibly taken merely for purposes of record keeping, often reveal much more about how social forces such as immigration, gender, ethnicity, class and technology transformed the workforce.

The MoMS program serves museums, libraries and historical societies in rural areas, where one-fifth of all Americans live. The Smithsonian’s partnership with state humanities councils is a creative response to the challenge faced by these rural museums to enhance their cultural legacies. Venues supplement the exhibitions with objects, stories and programs that celebrate local heritage and inspire community pride. Major funding for MoMSis provided by the U.S. Congress.

State humanities councils located in each state and U.S. territory support community-based humanities programs that highlight such topics as local history, literature and cultural traditions.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for nearly 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For exhibition description and tour schedules, visit

For additional information about the tour in individual states, contact the following representatives:

Jennifer Holley
Idaho Humanities Council
(208) 345-5346

Sept.10 – Oct. 22, 2011 
Oct. 29 – Dec. 10, 2011
Dec. 17, 2011 – Jan. 28, 2012
Feb. 4 – March 17, 2012
March 24 – May 5, 2012
May 12 – June 23, 2012

Priest River
Coeur d’Alene
Twin Falls
Bonners Ferry

Kevin Castillo
Illinois Humanities Council
(312) 422-5585, x233

Oct. 1 – Nov. 12, 2011
Nov. 19 – Dec. 31, 2011
Jan. 7 – Feb. 18, 2012
Feb. 25 – April 7, 2012
April 14 – May 26, 2012
June 2 – July 14, 2012


Anna Marie Wingron
Missouri Humanities Council
(314) 781-9660

Oct. 8 – Nov. 5, 2011
Nov. 19 – Dec. 17, 2011
Jan. 3 – Jan. 31, 2012
Feb. 11 – March 10, 2012
March 24 – April 21, 2012
May 5 – June 2, 2012 

Ste. Genevieve
Poplar Bluff

Paul McCoy
Humanities Tennessee
(615) 770-0006, x17

Sept. 10 – Oct. 22, 2011
Oct. 29 – Dec. 3, 2011
Dec. 10, 2011 – Jan. 21, 2012
Jan. 28 – March 3, 2012
March 10 – April 21, 2012
April 28 – June 2, 2012


Mark Payne
West Virginia Humanities Council
(304) 346-8500

Sept. 10 – Oct. 22, 2011
Oct. 29 – Dec. 10, 2011
Dec. 17, 2011 – Jan. 28, 2012
Feb. 4 – March 17, 2012
March 24 – May 5, 2012
May 12 – July 7, 2012
Point Pleasant

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Media only
Jennifer Schommer
(202) 633-3121

Media website

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