Sights & Activities

Awesome objects at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC

September 12, 2013

Photo courtesy of krossbow on Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON, DC – Walking through a massive museum to get a lesson in American history might sound like a bit of a chore, akin to slogging through a high school textbook. But prepare to leave all traditional notions of how history is told at the door when you walk into the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. It’s more like a fabulous bazaar of Americana and pop culture ephemera than a yawn-inspiring history lecture!

The difference is in the details. The expansive collection is a showcase of objects that are quintessentially American, and it’s through these displays that the story of America’s cultural development is told. You’ll find national treasures including the original Star-Spangled Banner, Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, and Carrie Bradshaw’s laptop from Sex and the City.

But you’ll also find more ordinary objects that are extraordinary in the way they offer a window on the past. The collection encompasses everything from vintage cash registers to 19th century bathtubs to a display of more than 500 quilts. Snowboards, Girl Scout uniforms, dollhouses, compasses, children’s books…you name it, they’ve got it. It’s almost like walking into a really exceptional flea market (but nothing, of course, is for sale). There are also exhibits that shine a light on different cultures within the U.S., including collections of Chinese clothes and Mexican-American iconography.

Photo courtesy of Sue Waters on Flickr Creative Commons

Some of the most interesting rotating exhibits include a history of transportation in the US, a retrospective of Americans at war, and the very popular First Ladies Hall complete with couture, campaign buttons, and china. And don’t miss the Hall of Presidents where you’ll see Lincoln’s top hat, Roosevelt’s teddy bear, and Clinton’s saxophone. Many of the their popular exhibits travel across the country to other museums, though. Check their website to see which exhibits are on loan and where they’ll be headed.

Chockfull of fabulous artifacts and patriotic gems, this museum is truly a highlight of the Smithsonian and of the National Mall. With so many things to feast your eyes on, you’ll never find time (or a reason!) to get bored. If only you could have said the same about your high school history class…

Read more about the National Museum of American History in our Washington, DC Guide.

National Museum of American History
14th St. and Constitution Ave., SW
Washington, DC
(1) 202-633-1000

Rachel Levin contributed to this post.

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