The National Museum of American History is located on Constitution Avenue NW, in Washington, DC and is a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s group of museums. Through research, extensive collections and public outreach, the museum presents America’s history and complexity. The facility opened to the public in January 1964, and was officially named as the National Museum of American History in 1980. It was the sixth Smithsonian building to open on the National Mall, and is now considered a National Historical Landmark. The museum has in its collection more than 3 million artifacts, from Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz to sheet music written by local legend Duke Ellington. It receives more than 4 million visitors per year, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
Much beloved as a source for all things Americana, the museum just might feature the most American artifact of all: the Star-Spangled Banner Flag. The flag flew above Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812, inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem and now awaits your eyes in an everlasting exhibition. Another treasured item on display is the top hat President Abraham Lincoln wore on the night of April 14, 1865, when he set off to Ford’s Theatre and was later assassinated in cold blood by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln’s hat is among a number of presidential relics that each tell a story in an exhibit entitled “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.”
And the museum does more than presidential artifacts—“The First Ladies Collection” pays homage to the wives of many commanders-in-chief. See more than two dozen gowns, fine china and other furnishings from First Ladies. And don’t forget to click your heels over to Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers—actually worn in the 1939 film, “Wizard of Oz”—and to experience the home kitchen of fine-cooking darling Julia Child. Child’s workshop is a part of the “FOOD: Transforming America’s Table 1950-2000” exhibit, which delves into the evolution of eating in America thanks to new technologies, forward-thinkers and social and cultural shifts.
See a piece of Plymouth Rock, a section of the Greensboro lunch counter to stroll the car-buff friendly “America on the Move” exhibit—whatever kind of American History you’re looking for, the National Museum of American History has it. Check americanhistory.si.edu before you visit for exciting programming, including lectures, tours and musical performances.
The National Museum of American History is open every day of the year except Dec. 25. Regular museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but hours are extended with a closing time of 7:30 p.m. during the summer. Exhibitions, amenities and programs are all handicap accessible, and parking spaces designated for those with disabilities can be found on Madison Drive. Public parking is limited, so public transportation is recommended. If using Metrorail, get off at the Smithsonian stop on the Orange and Blue lines. Metrobus routes 32, 34 and 36 are best if going by bus.
The museum is centrally located in DC, just a block away from the National Mall. Numerous landmarks and monuments can be found nearby, including the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the United States Botanic Garden. The National Museum of Natural History and other Smithsonian museums are just a short walk away as well. Surrounding the museum is Downtown DC, which offers an array of restaurants and forms of entertainment for the entire family to enjoy.
- The facility was one of the last structures to be designed by the famous McKim, Mead and White architectural firm.
- Abe Lincoln’s top hat, one of the museum’s famous artifacts, was used by the 16th President as a place to tuck important papers.
- The museum completed a two-year, $85 million renovation in 2008.
- The total area of the museum is approximately 750,000 square feet.