National Museum of American History

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National Museum of American History
Aerial view of National Museum of American History.jpg
National Museum of American History is located in Washington, D.C.
National Museum of American History
Location in Washington, D.C.
Established 1964
Location Washington D.C., United States
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Type History museum
Director John Gray
Architect McKim Mead & White
Public transit access WMATA Metro Logo.svg                Smithsonian or Federal Triangle

The National Museum of American History: Kenneth E. Behring Center collects, preserves and displays the heritage of the United States in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Among the items on display is the original Star-Spangled Banner. The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and located on the National Mall at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.


The museum opened in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. It was one of the last structures designed by the renowned architectural firm McKim Mead & White. In 1980, the museum was renamed the National Museum of American History to represent its mission of the collection, care, study, and interpretation of objects that reflect the experience of the American people.

In May 2012, John Gray was announced as the new director.[1]


The south facade of the museum

The museum underwent an $85 million renovation from September 5, 2006 to November 21, 2008,[2] during which time it was closed.[3] Skidmore, Owings and Merrill provided the architecture and interior design services for the renovation.[4] Major changes made during the renovation include:

  • A new, five-story sky-lit atrium, which is surrounded by displays of artifacts that showcase the breadth of the museum's collection.
  • A new, grand staircase that links the museum's first and second floors.
  • A new welcome center, and the addition of six landmark objects to orient visitors.
  • New galleries, such as the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Hall of Invention.
  • An environmentally controlled chamber to protect the original Star-Spangled Banner.

In 2012, the museum began a $37 million renovation of the west wing to add new exhibition spaces, public plazas and an education center.[5] The renovation will also include panoramic windows overlooking the National Mall on all three floors and new interactive features to the exhibits.[6] The first floor of the west wing will reopen on July 1, 2015 with the second and third floors of the west wing reopening in 2016 and 2017, respectively.[7]


North facade entrance of the museum

Each wing of the museum's three exhibition floors is anchored by a landmark object to highlight the theme of that wing. These include the John Bull locomotive, the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter, and a one of a kind draft wheel. Landmarks from pre-existing exhibits include the 1865 Vassar Telescope, a George Washington Statue, a Red Cross ambulance, and a car from a Dumbo Flying Elephant ride.

Artifact walls, 275 feet (84 m) of glass-fronted cases, line the first and second floor center core. The artifact walls are organized around themes including arts; popular culture; business, work and economy; home and family; community; land and natural resources; peopling America; politics and reform; science; medicine; technology; and the United States' role in the world.

Outdoor sculptures

In 1967, the 24-foot-tall (7.3 m) abstract sculpture, Infinity, was dedicated at the National Mall entrance.[8] Designed by José de Rivera and created by Roy Gussow, it was one of the first abstract sculptures displayed at a major public building in Washington D.C.[8] The sculpture is a 16-foot-long (4.9 m), polished stainless steel ribbon on top of a granite tower.[8]

Alexander Calder's sculpture, Gwenfritz, was installed in a fountain on the west side. The steel abstract stabile was dedicated to the museum on June 2, 1969.[9]

First floor

A Southern Railway locomotive displayed in America on the Move, a first-floor exhibit

The exhibits in the East Wing of the first floor feature transportation and technology; they include America on the Move and Lighting a Revolution. The John Bull locomotive is the signature artifact.

The first-floor exhibits in the West Wing address science and innovation. They include Science in American Life featuring Robots on the Road and Bon Appétit! Julia Child's Kitchen. Spark!Lab is a hands-on exhibit of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. The Vassar Telescope is the signature artifact.

A café and the main museum store are also located on the first floor.

Second floor

The exhibitions in the east wing of the second floor consider American ideals and include the Albert Small Documents Gallery featuring rotating exhibitions. From November 21, 2008 through January 4, 2009 an original copy of the Gettysburg Address, on loan from the White House, was on display. The Greensboro lunch counter is the signature artifact for this section of the museum.

Located in the center of the second floor is the original Star Spangled Banner Flag which inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. The newly conserved flag, the centerpiece of the renovated museum, is displayed in a climate-controlled room at the heart of the museum. An interactive display by Potion Design, just across the room from the flag, features a full-size, digital reproduction of the flag that allows patrons to learn more about it by touching different areas on the flag.

The George Washington statue, created in 1840 for the centennial of Washington's birthday, is the signature artifact for the west wing of the second floor of the museum.

The second floor also houses the museum's new welcome center and a store.

Third floor

Exhibits in the east wing of the third floor are focused on the United States at war; they include The Price of Freedom: Americans at War and The Gunboat Philadelphia. The Clara Barton Red Cross ambulance is the signature artifact.

The center of the third floor presents The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, which explores the personal and public lives of the men who have held that office. It also features the popular permanent exhibit of First Ladies of America, which features their contributions, changing roles, and displays dresses as a mark of changing times.

The third-floor west wing has exhibits that feature entertainment, sports and music. These include Thanks for the Memories: Music, Sports and Entertainment History, the Hall of Musical Instruments, and The Dolls' House. A car from Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride is the signature artifact.

Lower level

The lower level of the museum displays Taking America to Lunch, which celebrates the history of American lunch boxes. The museum's food court, the Stars and Stripes Café, and ride simulators are also located here.


In support of the museum's mission, the Archives Center identifies, acquires, and preserves significant archival records in many media and formats to document America's history and its diverse cultures. Center staff arrange, describe, preserve, and make collections accessible in support of scholarship, exhibitions, publications, and education.

The Archives Center occupies over 12,000 feet (3,700 m) of shelving in the National Museum of American History building. Subject strengths include the history of radio, television, the telegraph, computing, and other aspects of the history of technology with a special interest in the history of invention; advertising, marketing, and entrepreneurship; commercial visual ephemera (post cards, greeting cards); American music (sheet music, jazz) and musical instruments. These, and a wide range of other subjects, are documented in business records, personal papers, and extensive holdings of motion picture film, video and sound recordings, historical photographs, and oral histories.

Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

The Lemelson Center, an initiative of the Lemelson Foundation, produces educational programs, popular and academic publications, exhibitions, podcasts and symposia about invention. The mission of the Lemelson Center is to document, interpret and disseminate information about invention and innovation, encourage creativity in young people, and foster an appreciation for the central role of innovation in the history of the United States. The Center frequently provides a multi-year focus on some aspect of how invention has influenced American society, such as its 2002 "'Invention and the Environment" theme. Programs include an annual symposium, presentations and guest speakers, and often the publication of a book highlighting a particular topic.

The Center provides free curricular material to classrooms throughout the United States, organizes traveling museum exhibitions (such as Invention at Play), and provides research opportunities. It obtains archival collections related to invention for the museum's Archives Center. Such collections consist of the papers and materials that document the work of past and current American inventors.

Electronics and data processing

In the science field, notable figures whose work has been added to the Museum include:


The following individuals have served as the director of the NMAH. The museum was initially created on July 1, 1957 as the National Museum of American History within the United States National Museum; it became the National Museum of History and Technology in 1969 and the National Museum of American History in 1980.[10]

Past exhibits

  • Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, 27 January – 14 October 2012, Smithsonian Institution, a landmark exhibit, the first ever on the Mall to explore a president's relation to slavery; it focused on six major slave families at Monticello
  • 24 Hours in Cyberspace- opened on January 23, 1997, this exhibit celebrated "the largest one-day online event" (February 8, 1996) up to that date, which took place on the then-active website, (it is online at a mirror website maintained by Georgia Tech).[14][15] 24 Hours in Cyberspace was headed by photographer Rick Smolan.[16] The exhibit featured 70 photos from the project.[17]
  • Treasures of American History, temporary display at the National Air and Space Museum, closed in April 2008.
  • A Nation of Nations was the Smithsonian's Bicentennial salute to the American immigrant experience; it included many iconic rooms and examples of immigrants' contribution to the United States.


  1. "Former LA museum chief named director of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History". Washington Post. 8 May 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Philip Kopper "Back in Business", American Heritage, Winter 2009.
  3. "Press Release". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rothstein, Edward (November 20, 2008). "America's Attic, Ready for a Second Act". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Smithsonian National Museum Of American History West Wing Renovation Starts Soon". Huffington Post. November 2, 2012. Retrieved October 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Major renovations to Museum of American History underway". WTOP 103.5 FM. September 10, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "National Museum of American History Innovates with West Exhibition Wing". National Museum of American History. September 10, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Hevesi, Dennis (2011-02-20). "Roy Gussow, Abstract Sculptor, Dies at 92". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Gwenfritz, (sculpture)". SIRIS
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 National Museum of American History (U.S.). Office of the Director., Social Networks and Archival Context, University of Virginia.
  11. Roger Kennedy, Former Museum Director, Receives Smithsonian's Henry Medal, NMAH, Smithsonian Institution (May 4, 2011).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Patricia Cohen, National Museum of American History Gets a New Director, New York Times (May 8, 2012).
  13. Brent Glass, Director of the National Museum of American History, Announces Retirement, Smithsonian Institution (June 30, 2011).
  14. Mirror of Official site map
  15. Mirror of Official Site
  16. "24 Hours in Cyberspace" (and more)
  17. The human face of cyberspace, painted in random images

External links