National Museum of American History

June 1, 2017

Director: John L. Gray
Total Full-Time Employees: 237
FY 2017 Federal and Trust Budget: Federal: $25 million; Trust: $49.6 million
Approximate Number of Artifacts and Archival Materials: 1.8 million artifacts and 17,000 cubic feet of archival materials
Visitors: 4 million in 2016


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 museum began renovating the 120,000-square-foot west wing of its 53-year-old McKim, Mead and White-designed building in 2012. Each floor has a central theme: The first floor focuses on innovation and opened in 2015. The second floor, with 30,000 square feet of exhibition and program space, will explore the founding principles of the nation and how they have evolved over time; it will open this June 28. Cost for the full renovation, including exhibitions, programs and endowed positions is $58 million in federal funds, with an additional $100 million to be raised through private support from corporations, associations, individuals and foundations. 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 a combined 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.”
  • 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 Democracy: The Great Leap of Faith (Opening June 28): This exhibition explores the history of citizen participation, debate and compromise from the nation’s formation through today. Covering the American past from the Revolution to the present, this exhibition will trace the unfolding of this American experiment through the museum’s national treasures and representative artifacts to examine our founding political principles, including democracy, freedom and equality.
  • Many Voices, One Nation (Opening June 28): This exhibition takes visitors on a chronological and thematic journey that maps the cultural geography of the unique and complex stories that animate the Latin emblem on the country’s Great Seal and its national ideal: E pluribus unum, Out of many, one.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Indiana Jones’ Hat and Whip, the rarely displayed walking stick used by Benjamin Franklin, the Bunkers’ Chairs from “All in the Family” 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.

Online Presence

The museum has an innovative digital outreach program. 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 its educational goals.

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 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.

# # #



[Category: Society and Culture]