The Smithsonian is a network of 20 museums run by the U.S. government. Perhaps the most popular of them is the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. Completed in 1964, and originally called the National Museum of History and Technology, the museum, unsurprisingly, contains the largest collection of United States history in the world.
The National Museum of American History is huge, so I have not seen all of its exhibits. However, I have seen one of its most famous exhibits: The Star-Spangled Banner. As its name implies, it displays the flag that inspired an American lawyer, Francis Scott Key, to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the poem that became the U.S. national anthem. Key was temporarily held hostage on a British boat during the War of 1812, and watched as the British bombed Baltimore in September of 1814. After an anxious night, Key saw Fort McHenry raise its 15-starred American flag the next day, showing him that the British had lost the battle. Out of joy, Key penned and eventually published his poem, which he ironically suggested be sung to a British tune. Congress did not officially declare “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem until 1931. The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit is located in a dimmed room, in order to protect the huge flag from light damage.
Another awesome exhibit at the National Museum of American History is called “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.” This exhibit documents all of the wars the United States has fought in, using artifacts, photographs, signs, and videos. Across from this exhibit is the Gunboat Philadelphia, which was used in America’s Revolutionary War in 1776, under the command of Benedict Arnold, who later became notorious as a traitor. The ship sunk in battle, but was later salvaged in 1935.
Other exhibits at the National Museum of American History include a display of the dresses worn by many of America’s First Ladies (the U.S. Presidents’ wives). It is fun to see how women’s fashions have changed over the years. The museum also displays part of the original counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the first sit-in occurred. That is when four African American men went into a Woolworth’s store to eat lunch, in 1960, and stayed in their seats, even though the store’s policy was to only serve white people. Their action started a chain-reaction, causing many people to take part in sit-ins throughout the South. Other exhibits included at the museum are ones on technology, U.S. currency, transportation, and a 200-year-old house from Massachusetts. Additionally, miscellaneous items from the museum’s collection can be found throughout the building.
The Museum is currently working on renovating a fun exhibit called “National Treasures of Popular Culture,” which includes items from athletes, actors, musicians, etc. The most famous of these items is still currently on display, even though the rest of this exhibit is closed. That is the Ruby Slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.
As of July 3, 2020, the National Museum of American History is still closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in general, it is free to the public, as are the rest of the Smithsonian Museums.
Sources and Further Reading
“The Gunboat Philadelphia.” National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/press/fact-sheets/gunboat-philadelphia (accessed July 3, 2020).
“Mission and History.” National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/museum/mission-history (accessed July 3, 2020).
“The Star-Spangled Banner.” Smithsonian. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/flag-day/banner-facts#:~:text=The%20Star%2DSpangled%20Banner%20has,(1792)%20joining%20the%20Union. (accessed July 3, 2020).