Landmark of the Month (August): The National Museum of American History

Rather than highlighting one particular landmark this month, I'd like to take the opportunity to take about the re-opening of a significant DC landmark.

The National Museum of American History

After an extensive 18 month, $85 million dollar renovation, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is set to re-open on November 21. This is a significant event because A) it's a great place to visit and B) I'll be working as a volunteer Docent at the Museum! That's right...on the first and third Saturdays of every month, I'll be leading "Highlight" Tours of the NMAH. Stop by if you are in the area.

A look at what will be the main hall in the NMAH.

The Smithsonian Institution was founded by a gift to the United States by a British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), who had never even visited the United States. In his will, Smithson stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, the gift resulted in 104,960 gold sovereigns, worth US $500,000 (roughly $9 million in today's dollars) being bequested to the US. In 1846, Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institution, a hybrid public/private partnership, and the act was signed into law by President James T. Polk.

James Smithson

The Smithsonian is a unique institution, funded by both federal funds and money from the original funding endowment. The nominal head of the Institution is the Chancellor, an office which has always been held by the Chief Justice of the United States at the time. The Smithsonian has a 17-member Board of Regents; eight of the Regents are United States officials: the Vice President (one of his few official legal duties) and the Chief Justice of the United States, three United States Senators, and three Members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Smithsonian Institute has 19 museums, 9 research centers, and one zoo (The National Zoo, here in DC).

The original Smithsonian building, known as "The Castle"

The National Museum of American History opened to the public in January 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. It was the sixth Smithsonian building to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On June 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing $36 million for the museum. Groundbreaking took place on August 22, 1958 and the building is approximately 750,000 square feet. The building's location on the National Mall also qualifies it as a National Historic Landmark.

In 1980, the Museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American History to better represent its basic mission-the collection, care, and study of objects that reflect the experience of the American people.

The Museum has more than 3 million artifacts in their collection (only a small percentage is shown at any time). The collection is diverse and extremely broad, covering subjects in Science/Medicine, Entertainment, History, Pop Culture, Sports and Military, among others.

Here's some of the most famous and widely viewed items:

Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from the "Wizard of Oz"

A signed baseball from Babe Ruth

The hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing on the night he was shot.

One of George Washington's military uniforms.

You can visit the Museum's extensive website here:

You can see some photos and more details about the renovation here:


TonyB said...

You have done a great job occupying the place where God has you.

TonyB said...

OK, Spinner, next post needs to be about Ben's Chili Bowl. A place of real history and great chili dogs.

Filatore said...

Excellent recommendation. I'll have to do lots of indepth, first person research. . .

Mark said...

Did I see Vijul's name on the Babe Ruth baseball?

Filatore said...

that's probably the only place he hasn't written it.....

Corinna said...

Spinner, the oakhurts killed me. I think they need to use spell check,too! thanks for the comment