Division of Armed Forces History: Collections

The collections of the Division of Armed Forces History document the history of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States through superb collections of American (and some 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 accoutrements; and naval ship plans and archives. Also included are the collections for the Japanese American internment experience during World War II, when more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned in camps in the interior sections of the U.S; and the more recent September 11 collections, documenting aspects of the attacks on the U.S. in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Diplomacy collections are currently being developed.

The strength of the collections lies in their enormous depth. Some 3,000 military small arms and 2,400 civilian firearms document the mechanical and technological history of the infantryman's weapons from the beginning of the gunpowder era to the present. Among the 4,000 swords and knives in the collection are many spectacular presentation pieces. The uniform collections consist of headgear, coats, jackets, shirts, trousers, footwear, and accessories. Its strength is the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum collection, which came to the Smithsonian in 1919. It includes examples of most of the enlisted uniforms worn by the U.S. army from 1832 through 1900. In addition, the uniform collection contains many notable individual uniforms, from George Washington and U.S. Grant to Dwight Eisenhower and Colin Powell.

In addition, there is a superb collection of artwork, posters, and graphics, particularly for the World War I period. The combat art from World War I includes more than 500 paintings by 8 combat artists; 200 portraits of individuals by Joseph Cummings Chase, dating from WWI through WWII figures and depicting key military personalities as well as enlisted medal recipients. The strength of the posters collection is in military recruiting from 1900 to present.