National Museum of American History Announces Capital Campaign

November 15, 2006

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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced the launch of its Star-Spangled Banner Campaign today to raise $180 million to dramatically transform the Museum’s architectural appeal while reorganizing and renewing the presentation of its unrivaled collections.

The Museum has received $46 million in federal funds and $89 million from private donors to renovate the building. The Museum estimates it will need an additional $45 million to complete construction, create new ways to showcase the Museum’s three million objects and enhance online exhibitions, educational materials and on-site programs.

Construction is underway to create a soaring, five-story central atrium; a glass staircase connecting the first and second floors; and an abstract flag which will become the focal point of the second floor, where more than two-thirds of the public enter. The abstract flag, made of lightweight, reflective polycarbonate, will soar above the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery. The Museum is currently closed to the public and is scheduled to re-open in summer 2008.

“Exhibiting some of our nation’s most treasured objects and igniting young minds through education and outreach can only be accomplished with significant private dollars,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History.  

 “The National Museum of American History is an extraordinary national resource with an unparalleled collection,” said Museum Board Chairman Richard Darman. “This transformation—not just of the building, but of its intellectual and thematic organization—will ensure that it becomes a source of national pride and inspiration to millions of visitors.”

The architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP of New York and Turner Construction are responsible for the overall design and construction. New York-based design firm Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. will work with SOM on the new permanent gallery for the flag.

The campaign has received $60 million from philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring to be used for architectural work and to support three new exhibitions, including an introduction to American history set to open in 2009. Behring has pledged a total of $80 million to the Museum since 2000.

When the Museum re-opens, the Star-Spangled Banner will be displayed in a specially constructed, climate-controlled room. Visitors will see it in a contemplative space with low light levels to protect the flag, but set to evoke an atmosphere of the “dawn’s early light,” similar to what Francis Scott Key experienced on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, when he was inspired to pen his famous poem.

Preservation of the Star-Spangled Banner is made possible by major support from Polo Ralph Lauren. Generous support is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Congress and American Express. The conservation is part of Save America’s Treasures, a public-private project of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Foundation is supporting creation of a re-designed space for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, including a new gallery which will feature the exhibition “Invention at Play” in 2008. The Lemelson Foundation has contributed $40 million to the Museum between 1995 and 2001.

Darman and John Rogers, secretary of the board and managing director of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and member of the Museum’s board, are co-chairing the campaign.

The Museum opened in 1964 as the National Museum of History and Technology. Its name changed in 1980 to the National Museum of American History. A Blue Ribbon Commission in 2000 made recommendations for improving the Museum’s architecture and aesthetics. Many of the recommendations—opening the building’s center; treating the Star-Spangled Banner as the Museum’s central icon; creating an introductory exhibit on American history; improving lighting; adding exhibit space and reducing clutter—are being implemented.