Appendix B: Overview of NMAH Collections
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is responsible
for the collection, care and preservation of more than 3 million objects.
The collections represent the nation's heritage in the areas of science,
technology, sociology and culture. The collections include: first ladies'
gowns, a Samuel Morse telegraph, locomotives, tools, an Alexander Graham
Bell telephone, flags, American-made quilts, Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves,
Duke Ellington's sheet music, and TV puppet star Howdy Doody.
The Museum is organized into six collecting divisions. A description
of the collections and the curatorial expertise in each division follows:
This division oversees about 9,000 cubic feet of archival and documentary
materials that complement the Museum's collections of artifacts and support
the study of related topics in American life. Some collections come as
part of a larger donation that also include artifacts held in other divisions;
other collections have information relating to artifacts, donors and other
individuals represented in exhibitions and collections. Strengths of the
Archive Center's more than 500 collections include:
- Advertising - These collections include 19th-century ephemera
and print, radio and television advertisements documenting major post-World
War II-era campaigns.
- American Enterprise and Technology - This collection includes
the personal papers and business records of such figures as Allen B.
DuMont (television), Earl S. Tupper (plastics), Tom Carvel (ice cream),
and Leo H. Beakeland ("Bakelite").
- American Music - Highlights include the Duke Ellington collection
of unpublished music, sound recordings, business records, photographs
and other materials; the Sam DeVincent Collection of illustrated American
Sheet Music; and the records of the Pratt Read (piano keyboards) and
Wurlitzer (organs and other instruments) companies.
This division focuses on the everyday life of Americans. The collections
and research specialties range from the material aspects of the home and
workplace to traditional folk arts and 20th-century popular culture, visual
arts, and music. The division has seven major collecting and program areas:
- Business and Consumer Culture - These collections consist of
20th-century merchandise from the Headville, W.Va, post office and general
store, as well as artifacts from the Hills Bros. Coffee Company, Walter
Landor Package Designs, advertisements, menus, shopping carts, handbills,
- Education, Civic and Voluntary Organizations - Artifacts from
these collections are associated with teaching, scouting, youth and
fraternal groups, police service, and fire fighting. The department
houses two complete schoolrooms, each with teaching equipment, school
desk patent models, textbooks, uniforms, and insignia.
- Ethnic and Religious Communities - These collections include
artifacts produced by ethnic groups and are generally identified with
their occupational, domestic, and religious activities. Among them are
furniture, food-related devices, clothing, tools, ritual devices, decorations,
and folk arts and crafts belonging to Europeans, Latinos, Arabs, Asians,
Gypsies, Jews, and Christians.
- Hand Tools - This collection includes more than 5,000 traditional
American tools, chests, and simple machines for working wood, stone,
metal, leather, and shell largely from the 1800s and early 1900s. Trades
represented include carpenter, stone carver, blacksmith, shoeshine man,
ice cream cone maker, and garbage collector.
- Musical History - These collections relate to the history of
music and the development of instruments and performance styles and
techniques of European and American music. NMAH possesses approximately
5,000 keyboard, string and wind instruments -- one of the world's most
comprehensive collections of musical instruments. Sound recordings,
sheet music, jazz artifacts, memorabilia, and a growing iconographic
file support the collections. The division is also home to the Smithsonian
Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society.
These world-renowned performing arts organizations use original sheet
music and period instruments from the collections.
- Popular Entertainment and Mass Media - These holdings include
artifacts of 19th- and 20th-century commercial theater, film, radio,
recordings, and television. Among the many objects are Hollywood props,
movie posters and publicity stills, sheet music, puppets, theater programs,
and 50,000 sound recordings from 1903 to the present.
- Program in African American Culture (PAAC) - The purpose of
PAAC is to research, document, and preserve the cultural legacy of Americans
of African descent through public programs, publications, and other
media. Materials and documents associated with PAAC are housed in the
Archives Center, where the most requested collections are the Civil
Rights Movement and the Gospel Music Collections.
- Sports, Recreation and Leisure - These collections focus on
artifacts used in competitive sports and recreation on all levels, including
equipment, clothing, awards, souvenirs, stadium objects, playing cards,
camping gear, and fitness equipment.
History of Technology
This division is concerned with the history of technology and its relationship
with American society and culture.
- Agriculture and Natural Resources - This collection includes
200,000 objects pertaining to the growth and development of the nation's
farming, fishing, forestry, and mining industries. Of particular interest
are documents and artifacts relevant to specific trends in particular
regions and communities. The objects fall under six categories: Agriculture;
Food Technology; Forestry and Wood products; Fisheries and Whaling;
Mining and Metals; and Petroleum and Oil Refining. The natural resources
collection consists of such items as a Kelly converter, oil drilling
equipment, wood samples, miners' hats and safety lamps, and documentary
material dating from the Civil War to the present. This is one of the
largest collections at NMAH.
- Armed Forces History - These collections document the history
of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States through
superb collections of American and limited foreign ordnance, firearms
and swords; U.S. Army, Navy Marine, Army Air Force, and Coast Guard
uniforms and insignia; national and military flags and banners; military
and naval accouterments; and naval ship plans and archives. Key objects
include the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national
anthem; and the Gunboat Philadelphia, sunk during the Revolutionary
- Engineering and Industry - This collection encompasses three
areas: Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Manufacturing, and Mechanisms.
The collection includes over 100,000 objects with strong emphasis on
the process of industrialization and its social and environmental effects.
- Transportation - This collection documents the evolution of
rail, water and road transportation. The collection holds more than
200 land vehicles, including locomotives, streetcars, motor vehicles,
bicycles, and carriages, as well as other artifacts and apparatus related
to vehicles and vessels. The objects are supported by a large archival
collection that includes ship design plans, photographs, and locomotive
models. Well known objects are the "John Bull" locomotive,
built in 1841 in England for use in the U. S. and now the oldest operable
locomotive anywhere; the 1866 Dudgeon Steam wagon, one of the earliest
American cars; a Tucker Sedan; a 1913 Ford Model T; and Evel Knievel's
Information Technology and Society
This division develops, preserves, studies and interprets collections
in the areas of computing and mathematics, electricity, graphic arts,
numismatics, and photographic history.
- Computing and Mathematics - This collection includes computers
and related electronic devices, software, records, and ephemera that
document the evolution of computers and their pervasive effects on modern
American society. The collection is particularly rich in 19th- and 20th-century
objects pertaining to the history of mathematics.
- Electricity - These collections document the history of electricity,
including lighting devices, motors and generators; communications technology,
including telegraphy, magnetic recording, telephony, radio, and television;
and lasers, transistors, and integrated circuits. Examples of Thomas
Edison's inventions along with other representatives of the early development
of electrical power are part of this collection.
- Graphic Arts - This comprehensive collection includes 45,000
objects documenting the history and technology of printing and printmaking.
The collection includes printing presses, type, matrices, engraving
tools, and plates, as well as small collections of tools used in the
related crafts of paper making and book binding. The holdings also include
examples of printing for the blind, bank note engraving, and printed
maps. The collection of prints contains work by artists of all nationalities
and dates from the 15th-century to the present. The collection also
documents the history of the news industry in this country, dating from
- Numismatics - These collections encompass the entire spectrum
of materials illustrating the historical development of money since
early times. Particularly well represented are coins, medals and currencies
from ancient Greece, the Far East, and Russia. The strongest areas of
the collections are U.S. coins and currency, from colonial times to
the present. In addition, the collections include a broad array of medals
and commemoratives, as well as credit cards and debit cards, and one
of the first ATM machines.
- Photographic History - This collection focuses on the worldwide
history of the technology and practice of photography from its invention
in 1839 to the present with special focus on photographic systems and
photographic preservation. Photographs in this collection are directly
related to the aesthetic, technical, or scientific history of photography.
The collection includes over 150,000 images, 10,000 pieces of apparatus,
and 300 patent models.
Science, Medicine and Society
This division is concerned with the history of science and technology
as they relate to American culture.
- Biological Sciences - These collections include molecular biology
and biotechnology instrumentation; special apparatus and instrumentation
used for field and laboratory research and in classroom education; artifacts
documenting the social and political history of biology; artifacts relating
to the roles of women and minorities in science; and trade literature
associated with these areas.
- Chemistry - These collections include apparatus and instrumentation
for inorganic, organic, and biochemistry. The focus is on natural and
synthetic polymers (plastics).
- Medical Sciences - These collections are among the largest
and most comprehensive of its kind in the world. They consist of objects
related to many fields of the health sciences and areas of health care,
such as dentistry, pharmacy, public health, and molecular medicine.
These collections are supported by trade catalogues, advertising literature,
posters, business records, and audiovisual and manuscript materials.
- Modern Physics - This collection consists of instruments and
apparatus used in the study of elementary particles and particle acceleration;
it also includes numerous artifacts related to quantum electronics such
as atomic clocks and atomic magnetometers.
- Physical Sciences - These collections include apparatus of
astronomy, chemistry, classical physics, meteorology, navigation, and
surveying which are used for research, education, or practical purposes.
This division focuses on the public and private life of Americans from
the 17th-century to the present.
- Ceramics and Glass - These collections contain more than 30,000
ceramics and glassware made, used and marketed in America, including
table, kitchen, toilet, decorative, archaeological, and industry wares.
- Costume - These collections consist primarily of garments and
accessories worn by Americans of all socioeconomic levels, from the
late 17th-century to the present. They contain approximately 30,000
items that document what Americans looked like and how their clothing
was made and sold.
- Domestic Life - These collections consist of approximately
40,000 objects documenting American home life from the time of European
settlement to the recent past. They include houses and outbuildings,
as well as objects used to maintain them, and objects of home activities
such as food preparation, consumption, recreation, and cosmetics.
- Political History - The more than 100,000 objects in this collection
relate to the political history of the United States, including the
largest collection in the nation for the study of political campaigning
and political advertisingtechniques, symbols, and devices. Also
significant are collections associated with presidential campaigns,
the White House and the First Ladies, and the women's rights, labor,
and Civil Rights movements.
- Textiles - These collections consist of more than 50,000 items
such as organic and synthetic fibers, yarns and fabrics; woven objects
such as shawls, baskets and linens; and machines, tools, and implements
related to the history of textiles technology. The collections also
house the National Quilt Collection of over 370 quilts, as well as over
4,000 patent models of 19th-century inventions.
Prepared by NMAH Staff
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C: Current Floor Plan -->