The Smithsonian’s American History Museum

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Washington Monument and Snowy National Mall
Washington Monument On Snow-Covered National Mall
Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Entrance To The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History

We only spent one day in Washington, and except for Randy, all of us had been there before. The National Mall was covered with a slushy, but brightly picturesque, snow. Over the course of a few hours, we took in the Washington Monument, the new World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, and the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial. But before that, we spent the morning in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Back on a family vacation the summer of 2002, we took our semi-interested teen progeny to this and several others of the Smithsonian’s national museums. While the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is an awesome, not-to-be-missed museum, we think it’s unfortunate that it seems to get better play than the history museum. If you have kids in tow, granted, seeing airplanes and spaceships might be a better utilization of your family museum-going time, but otherwise, if you go to the nation’s capital, don’t miss the museum dedicated to the nation’s history and culture.

The National Museum of American History is packed with historical artifacts of all types, from an entire colonial era home relocated from Boston and reassembled inside the museum, to a Revolutionary War gunboat sunk in 1776, raised from the bottom of Lake Champlain in the 1930’s, and bequeathed to the Smithsonian in 1961.

One of the biggest (in size and popularity) exhibits is the original “Star Spangled Banner”, the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to our National Anthem. When we visited in 2002, the flag had been removed for conservation, and in its place was a great presentation on how conservators were working to restore it. We looked forward to returning to see their work; unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed, but trust me that not only did they do a great job, but the new room it’s displayed in is impressive.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Edison Light Bulb from 1891
Edison Incandescent Light Bulb From 1891

Back in 2002, we spent a lot of time (to the wife and children’s chagrin) in a room dedicated to the development of the digital computer. Big, water-cooled, tube-filled computers with less computing power than the freebie solar-powered calculators you readily throw away when you clean out your junk drawers are way cool, but we skipped that room this time around in favor of the room filled with all sorts of other innovations by Americans. Like an early Edison light bulb from 1891, one of the first ticker-tape machines, and early tube-shaped phonographs.

Speaking of tube-shaped phonographs, we came across a room with a fascinating display of early recording media, including wax cylinders and early vinyl discs. A recent project was completed to play some of those early recordings: no small feat, considering the playback equipment for some of the surviving media just doesn’t exist anymore. It was a bit eery to hear the actual recorded voice of Alexander Graham Bell (who competed against Edison to invent alternative recording and playback devices) from 1885.

Finally, in addition to all the artifacts of historical significance, and all the early inventions and innovations, the museum is a repository of all manner of items of American culture. Famously displayed are Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs from the set of the TV series “All In The Family”. Among the many other fun items of American cultural interest, and of sentimental value to our generation, is Sesame Street’s Count von Count, who debuted in 1972.

“And when I’m done, I count myself! One count…”



Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Sesame Street's Count von Count
Sesame Street’s Count von Count




Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Archie and Edith Bunker's Chairs
Archie and Edith Bunker’s Chairs


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