My third day in Washington D.C. started out with grey clouds and a sprinkling of rain. Early breakfast at the hotel done, and underground Metro successfully navigated, I walked across the National Mall and up the stairs to stand in front of the solemn stone monolithic building that houses the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Of course it was at this point that the heavens truly opened and I stood in the rain, soaking up what felt to be just about every single raindrop that fell on that soggy morning. When the doors were finally flung open and we made it past security, there I was, a truly drowned rat that just so happened to have the most massive of silly grins on its face.
Originally opened in 1964 under the banner of Museum of History and Technology, the year 1980 saw the museum adopt its new moniker of National Museum of American History, a much stronger representation of its mission to collect, care for, study, and interpret objects that reflect the history and experience of the American people. Having undergone a couple of renovations since the early 2000’s, the National Museum of American History is a behemoth of a museum to visit. Spread over three exhibition floors, each with its own wings and lined with artifact walls, the museum is packed with a mesmerizing number and variety of displays, items of interest, and exhibitions, stretching wildly across the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history.
For those interested in conquest and power, the third floor focuses on the military history of the United States, as well as the American Presidency, and even an exhibition regarding the First Ladies of America (I can’t really explain that last one). On the other side of the hall, sport, music and culture gets a nod, and for my particular visit there even stood a temporary exhibit of classic American quilts. The second floor is pinned by the original Star Spangled Banner Flag, and features rotating exhibits that consider American ideals, such as who people are who make up the United States of America, how did they live, where did they come from, and what it took to ensure voting rights for all.
The first floor is focused on exhibits revolving around transportation and technology, detailing America’s modes of transportation over the years, inventors and inventions, science in terms of robots and America’s future, and even a recreation of Julia Child’s famous kitchen whilst looking at the impact of Food Technology as a whole. The final lower level of the museum features a number of smaller exhibits including one showing the impact of American commerce on the world stage, and believe it or not, a Gallery of Numismatics, i.e. the study or collection of currency.
As you may then guess, it takes literal hours to walk through this fascinating museum and its ode to all things American, and thus the chance of absorbing every little detail is virtually zero. That said, as you may be able to tell just from the size of the photo gallery featured down below, this little nugget of information was surely nowhere near good enough to stop me from trying my best to do so!
Besides, who can say no to any museum that counts and so confidently displays a blindingly neon lit Batman Forever Batmobile so prominently as part of its collection!?
It certainly is a lot to take in, but for anyone with any sort of passing interest in the history of technology, culture and the United States in general would certainly be silly to give the National Museum of American History a skip if they ever do find themselves in Washington D.C.!