National Museum of American History Moves Original Star-Spangled Banner into New State-of-the-Art Gallery

September 30, 2008
Following an extensive 10-year conservation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History moved the Star-Spangled Banner—the flag that inspired the national anthem—into its new home at the heart of the museum. The new Star-Spangled Banner Gallery is part of an extensive, $85 million renovation of the building’s center core, dramatically transforming the museum’s architectural appeal while reorganizing and renewing the presentation of its wide-ranging collections. The Museum’s doors will open once again to the public Friday, Nov. 21, providing a new look at the almost 200-year-old Star-Spangled Banner.

The Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project was made possible by major support from Polo Ralph Lauren. Generous support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Congress, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the American Express Historic Preservation Fund. The conservation project is part of Save America’s Treasures—a public-private partnership administered by the National Park Service and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

A special enclosure, fronted by a 35-foot-long floor-to-ceiling glass wall, will protect the fragile wool and cotton flag while providing maximum visibility to visitors. The chamber’s lighting, mechanical, security and fire prevention systems, as well as the table upon which the flag rests and the new gantry (movable bridge) that museum staff will use to inspect the flag, are designed to work together to ensure the long-term care of the flag. All support structures and mechanisms will be hidden from public view and the flag will appear to be floating.

The 30-by-34-foot banner will be displayed at a horizontal orientation according to U.S. flag code and, in order to reduce stress to the textile, at a 10-degree angle of elevation. Low light levels will protect the flag yet are dramatic enough to evoke an atmosphere of the “dawn’s early light,” similar to what Francis Scott Key experienced on Sept. 14, 1814, when he penned his poem that became the national anthem in 1931. The room has separate environmental systems maintaining a constant temperature of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity of 50 percent.

The viewing area provides a contemplative setting for visitors. The first stanza of Key’s poem will be projected prominently on the wall above and behind the Star-Spangled Banner. An interactive image of the flag will provide additional information.

The History Channel, a donor through financial contributions and in-kind gifts, will release a new one-hour special touching on the flag’s colorful history, including the specialized conservation treatment undertaken by the museum and the new high-tech flag chamber. A part of the channel’s “Save Our History” series, the documentary will air in November.

Visitors may explore virtual exhibitions, collections and find updates via the museum’s Web site: americanhistory.si.edu. The public may also subscribe to a monthly electronic newsletter for re-opening updates and upcoming exhibitions. The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum will shed new light on American history, both in Washington and online. A grand reopening festival is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2008. To learn more about the museum and its renovation, check http://americanhistory.si.edu where visitors can sign up for an electronic newsletter. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).