The Smithsonian museum of American history: How to plan your visit
History museums can be overwhelming and stuffy. The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History is the opposite – super engaging, and, geared towards an interactive experience. Here you will learn about American history through an incredible collection of artifacts and exhibitions.
Through an exhibition of 1.7 million objects, the Museum of American History explains the history of the United States through several interesting and interactive collections. These exhibitions explore fundamental American ideals and values, combining cool moments of the recent past to the foundations of the colonial era. However, only a tiny fraction, 1% of the entire collection, is on display at the same time.
Get ready to go back in time and experience a couple of hundreds of years of culture. At this museum you will get a chance to see the gowns of the first ladies, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Prince’s gold guitar, Michael Jordan’s championship jersey, and many more remarkable artifacts. My personal favorite is the tattered original flag that flew over Ft. McHenry, the same flag that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner.
The 750,000 square feet museum has 3 floors so you can easily spend a couple of hours here. I recommend that at least you plan to stay at this museum for 2 hours, which will give you sufficient time to see the main exhibits.
We recommend the following tours to upgrade your experience at the museum.
Lower level: The simulator rides (while the museum entry is free, you need to pay for the rides) are the highlight of this floor. You can choose to either climb aboard an interactive flight simulator (2 people per ride) and test your skills at air combat or hop on the passenger ride simulator (up to 20 people) that will let you fly through the skies with lots of fast-paced turns and aerial loops. Choose from an aerobatic challenge, glacier race, a retro race and a cosmic coaster. In this level you can also find the gift shop where you can get miniature copies of the American Constitution, Rosie the Riveter socks, several books, among other memorabilia.
First floor: Some of the exhibits featured here include America on the Move, which showcases how transportation and technology in the United States have transformed the country from a rural nation to a major power. There are approximately 300 objects to view here including the first automobile driven across the United States. Another exhibit worth checking out is the Lighting a Revolution, Electricity Hall which explores how Thomas Edison created a market for the light bulb and the impact of electricity.
Second floor: Featured on this floor is the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibit which intricately guides you through the history of citizen participation from the nation’s formation until present day. A must visit is the Star-Spangled banner exhibit where visitors can explore the Battle of Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key who wrote the lyrics for the American national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The nearly 200-year-old flag is displayed in a climate-controlled room.
Third floor: Here we recommend you explore the American Presidency: A glorious burden exhibit which explores the evolution of the American presidency. There is a collection of over 900 artifacts but without a doubt among the most treasured items can be found the top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln the night that he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth as he headed to Ford’s Theatre. It seems President Lincoln was not content with his height – at 6.4 feet tall he stood out from his contemporaries by wearing top hats which made it even taller! This exhibit is divided into four sections: Foundations, inaugurations, life and death at the White House and communicating the presidency.
Also worth visiting on the third floor is the Entertainment Nation exhibit which pays tribute to American entertainment and pop culture over the last 150 years; encompassing an extraordinary collection of film, television, music, sports, and theater artifacts. So what can you see here? Plenty! Look for the Prince’s guitar, Muhammad Ali’s boxing robe and the droids from Star Wars, C3P0 and R2D2. Oh and get ready to be surrounded by flashy videos and immersed in the sound of 100 years of music. Also worth highlighting is that this is the first exhibit on the National Mall that is totally bilingual – presenting content both in English and Spanish.
Opening hours and location
The Museum of American history is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. It is located on Constitution Avenue, N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets.
Getting to the museum of American history
By car: There is no public parking facility available at the Smithsonian on the National Mall, so you will have to find a spot along the street. And let me tell you that finding parking can be very challenging, especially during the weekend.
By metro: The closest metro stops to the museum are either Federal Triangle or Smithsonian, on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines.
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