American Enterprise

Detail photograph of cash register, 1921
American Enterprise chronicles the tumultuous interaction of capitalism and democracy that resulted in the continual remaking of American business—and American life. Visitors are immersed in the dramatic arc of labor, power, wealth, success, and failure in America in an 8,000-square-foot space focused on the role of business and innovation from the mid-1700s to the present. Use the links below to explore the exhibition and other related stories.

American Enterprise exhibition logoAll of the objects, videos, and interactive displays showcased in American Enterprise are available online in the exhibition's companion website. Use the site to chart your own journey through the exhibition and trace the country's development from a small, dependent agricultural nation to one of the world’s most vibrant economies.


Women have been entrepreneurs and owned businesses since the founding of the United States in the eighteenth century. They were merchants, land speculators, and many other things. Women often started money-making ventures from their homes, but others worked their way up within industries. While many cracked the glass ceiling, women remained a minority in business ownership. So while we celebrate the achievements of the following women in history, we should also remember that many women who dreamed of owning or starting a business may not have had many pathways to success..



Join curators and historians for an engaging series of panel discussions offering perspectives on the current pandemic. Panelists will virtually share objects from the past as a springboard to a lively discussion of how to better understand the present. Audience questions are encouraged and will be addressed in the moderated dialogue.



Photograph of bottles and boxes used to market "patent medicines" in the late 1800s and early 1900s.Visit the "Advertising Business" section's companion website to explore how the ad industry has shaped interactions betweens producers and consumers throughout American history.


Tillie and brokersAmerican Enterprise will continue to grow as the museum collects new objects and stories. The exhibition's "New Perspectives" case, located in the Global Era section, will highlight new acquisitions and interpret old collections in novel ways. 


Photograph from the museum's Scurlock Studios collection. Four young women pose in front of a convertible with advertisements for Hoppy Adams of WANN radio station in Annapolis, Maryland. Visit the museum's blog, O Say Can You See, to stay up to date on our latest research into the nation's business history.


Photograph of the Merchant Era section in the American Enterprise exhibition. In the center of the photo stands a wooden Red River Cart from the 1800s.In a hurry? Follow our curators' highlights guide to get an overview of the exhibition featuring key objects and stories.


Opening screen for the museum's interactive display, "The Market Revolution"Interested in bringing business history into the classroom? Many of the objects, videos, and interactive displays featured in American Enterprise have been added to the museum's History Explorer portal, which describes how these materials meet the United States History Standards for K-12 educators.


Photograph of the Exchange section in the American Enterprise exhibition. The section is lit dramatically. On the floor, with numbers projected on the floor and a glowing tower in the center.Take a virtual tour through the exhibition using a photo gallery created by the museum's photographers.



Photograph of a museum staff member showing farming objects to visitors during an Ask a Farmer program.Planning a trip? Make sure to check the museum's calendar to see what will be happening during your visit. Public programs like Ask A Farmer are a fun way to learn more about the interconnected histories of business, agriculture, and food.


Photograph of four miners resting underground.With the help of volunteers from around the world, the museum recently transcribed an 1897 journal that chronicles daily life in Pennsylvania coal country. Learn more about the journal and its influence on American Enterprise on the museum's blog, browse the journal yourself on the Smithsonian Transcription Center's website, or check out curator Peter Liebhold's public Q&A about the museum's expansive mining history collections.