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Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Immerse yourself in the red, white and blue at one of the city’s most impressive museums
What and where is the National Museum of American History?
The National Museum of American History is located on Constitution Avenue NW, just a block away from the National Mall. Through research, in-depth exhibits, extensive collections and public outreach, the museum presents America’s history in all of its complexity. Its collection features more than three million artifacts, from Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz to sheet music written by DC legend Duke Ellington.
The museum is open every day of the year except December 25 and admission is always free. Regular hours are 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., but the museum stays open until 7:30 p.m. during its extended spring and summer hours (check website for specific dates).
The easiest way to get there is via Metrorail or Metrobus. The closest Metro stop is Smithsonian, on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. The 32, 34 and 36 Metrobus routes will all take you to the National Mall, whose monuments you can explore in full once you’ve gotten your full dose of American history. The facility is handicap-accessible, and dedicated parking spaces are located on Madison Drive NW.
Much beloved as a source for all things Americana, the museum features 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 wide eyes in an everlasting exhibition.
Another treasured item on display is the top hat worn by President Abraham Lincoln on the fateful 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.
However, the 750,000 square-foot museum contains much more than presidential artifacts. The women who stood by the side of our nation’s leaders are memorialized in The First Ladies, which boasts more than two dozen gowns, fine china and other furnishings. And don’t forget to click your heels over to the aforementioned ruby slippers found in the American Stories exhibit, a fascinating compilation of story-making artifacts throughout American history.
Marvel at the home kitchen of fine-cooking darling Julia Child, whose 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.
The evolution of American transportation and business are also given their due in separate exhibits. Stroll the car-buff friendly America on the Move exhibit, which sports the first automobile driven across the U.S. and a 40-foot stretch of Route 66 within its collection of 340 objects. American Enterprise focuses on the country’s commercial innovations from the past 300 years.
Kids will love Wegmans Wonderplace, the first exhibit on the National Mall designed specifically for children ages 0 to 6. The space includes interactive exhibits and hands-on activities that are sure to get their minds acquainted with our country’s vibrant history.
There are so many Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC covering topics from American history to Asian art, discover them here.