Object Groups

The National Museum of American History preserves a wide variety of historical artifacts, archival documents, and library materials. In these Object Groups, curators have gathered items that relate to each other and provided background and contextual information to supplement basic object identifications.

Survey Print

19th Century Survey Prints

Nearly 40 examples of prints from three government survey expeditions to the American West: the U.S. and Mexico Boundary Survey, the U.S. Naval Astronomical Expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, and the U.S. Pacific Railroad Surveys.

A Nation Grieves: COVID-19 Memorial Flags

A small collection of flags from Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s art installation, “In America: How could this happen...” in Washington, D.C., September–November, 2020. Each flag represented an American who died of COVID-19 as of November 2020.
A collection of adders including a Magic-Brain Calculator, an Exactus Mini-Add, a Troncet Arithmographe, and a Locke Adder.


From the mid-19th century, Americans have used simple instruments to assist them in doing arithmetic. Some of these did not actually add and subtract, but made it easier for users to do so. These included not only the abacus, but also devices called adders.

An image displaying several adding machines from the Division of Medicine and Science.

Adding Machines

For most of human history arithmetic has been an act of human intelligence, aided only occasionally by devices like counters, the abacus, or the slide rule. The collections of the National Museum of American History document the development of adding machines, from stylus-operated models to increasingly compact, light and powerful key driven instruments. The corporate collections of the pioneering firms of Felt & Tarrant and Burroughs are especially well represented.

Ivory Soap Ad


Advertising is meant to persuade, and the themes and techniques of that persuasion reveal a part of the nation's history.

John Deere Model D Tractor


From butter churns to diesel tractors, the Museum's agricultural artifacts trace the story of Americans who work the land.

Embroidery of flowers

American Samplers

By the 1700s, samplers were being worked by young women to learn basic needlework skills. Samplers are important representations of early American female education and this group features 50 of the 137 American samplers in the Textile Collection.

A picture of the Arithmetic School, a toy by Playskool.

Arithmetic Teaching Apparatus

Objects for math instruction reveal the changing role of arithmetic in American education. From the 1820s, teachers in public schools encouraged mental discipline by using textbooks and blackboards, while the teaching abacus and special geometric models utilized tactile learning. In the early 1900s, psychologists and math teachers used new educational theories to develop special flash cards, standardized tests, and educational games. During the 1950s and 1960s, more abstract approaches gained prominence. Recently, inexpensive electronic calculators have been used to teach— as well as perform —arithmetic.

Panorama of the Army of the Cumberland


The National Museum of American History is not an art museum. But works of art fill its collections and testify to the vital place of art in everyday American life.

Art of Frank Gaspard

Art of Frank Gasparro: 10th United States Mint Chief Engraver

The Art of Frank Gasparro consists of 115 drawings, plaster models, photographs, newspaper clippings and ephemera collected by, and related to, Frank Gasparro, the 10th United States Chief Engraver. Christina Hansen, Gasparro's daughter, donated the collection in 2009 to the National Numismatic Collection (NNC).

Balm of America Banner image, a collection of medicine

Balm of America: Patent Medicine Collection

Selected objects from the Museum’s significant collection of patent medicines. Begun in 1930, the collection has grown to over 4,000 products dating from the 19th century to the present day.

Bolling Crest Silks

Bolling Crest Silks

During World War I, the British blockade of German ports prevented American manufacturers from importing dyes for textiles, paper, and leather. See how one American silk company made a virtue of necessity by starting a fashion for dressing in black and white.

A representative sample from the bookkeeping machines collection in the Division of Medicine and Science.

Bookkeeping Machines

Beginning in the 14th century, a small number of European businesses kept careful written records of receipts and expenditures. These bookkeeping methods gradually diffused throughout Europe and the United States.  With the advent of typewriters and adding machines, many large retail firms, government offices, and banks invested in custom-made, expensive bookkeeping machines. The bookkeeping machines in the collection of the National Museum of American History come from a variety of makers, including adding machine manufacturer Burroughs, cash register maker NCR, and typewriter firms Remington and Underwood.

Image for Bristol-Myers Squibb European Apothecary

Bristol-Myers Squibb European Apothecary

The Bristol-Myers Squibb European Apothecary is an eclectic collection of more than 1300 pharmaceutical artifacts assembled over a period of forty years by Dr. Jo Mayer, a German Jewish pharmacist.

An image featuring several calculating machines from the collection.

Calculating Machines

This group contains the calculating machine collection from the Division of Medicine & Science at the National Museum of American History. During the late 19th and early 20th century, calculating machines served as common tools of scientists, engineers, statisticians, actuaries, government officials, and payroll clerks. Around 1970, calculating machines began to be replaced by cheap electronic calculators and the devices became hefty reminders of a bygone era.

postcard image of mission

California Mission Postcards

The following group of California mission postcards includes views associated with the twenty-one missions established between 1769 and 1823 by Spanish Franciscan missionaries along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.

A selection of cash registers exemplifying their technological development from 1878 until 1970.

Cash and Credit Registers

As American business and cash purchases expanded in the second half of the 19th century, shopkeepers bought recorders and registers to secure their money and track transactions. This object group traces the development of the register from its invention in 1878, suggests the dominance of the market by National Cash Register Company during much of the 20th century, and shows the introduction of electronic point of sale terminals and the rise of the Universal Product Code.

A collection of objects from the Smithsonian's Civil War History collection.

Civil War 150

This group explores the rich Civil War history in the Armed Forces History and Numismatic collections. Objects include an array of items from uniform accoutrements and firearms, documents and coins. Through the collection we can understand the perspective and experiences of the common soldier and the high-ranking officer. The collection reveals numerous stories that give intriguing insight into the nation’s Civil War narrative.

Pattern on a fabric

Clothes and Heritage: Chinese American Clothes from the Virginia Lee Mead Collection

Clothing houses people. These objects provide not just warmth and wrapping of the human form, but also establish identity and distinctiveness. The Virginia Lee Mead collection objects give insight on a Chinese immigrant family through the clothes in which they lived

Women's Gown (cheong sam) ca. 1930

Clothing & Accessories

Work, play, fashion, economic class, religious faith, even politics—all these aspects of American life and more are woven into clothing.

$100,000 U.S. Gold Certificate

Coins, Currency, and Medals

The museum possesses one of the largest and most diverse numismatic collections in the world. Its diverse holdings represent every inhabited continent and span more than three millennia.
Alley Oop comic with cave men

Comic Art

These examples of original pen and ink comic art drawings were prepared for publication in newspapers across the country. The drawings date mostly from the 1940s, 1950s, and the 1960s. They help us look at American history through the reflective lens of the comic art medium. Their storylines and characters portray evil, ruthless, immoral, and corrupt individuals as well as their counterparts who assist a maintenance of American morals and a popular way of life.

Copper Libertas Americana medal.

Comitia Americana Medals

The Comitia Americana series memorializes some of the pivotal moments of the American Revolutionary War. The series was created between 1776 and the early 19th century almost exclusively by French artists and artisans at the commission of the United States. The name of the series, Latin for American Congress, denotes that these medals were created after Continental Congressional votes to memorialize the heroism, friendship, and leadership of key American and French revolutionaries.  Each medal was struck either at the Paris Mint or the United States Mint in Philadelphia. The Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection currently holds 119 of these medals and 10 commemorative reproductions dating to the 20th century. The iconography of each medal is deeply neoclassical in its use of heroic and Hellenistic portraiture, symmetrical panoramic battle scenes, and mythic scenes played as Revolutionary battles.

WANN Microphone


Tools of communication have transformed American society time and again over the past two centuries. The Museum has preserved many instruments of these changes, from printing presses to personal digital assistants.

Apple II Personal Computer

Computers & Business Machines

The museum's collections include mainframes, minicomputers, microcomputers, and handheld devices, as well as a wide variety of mechanical and electronic tools for business.
Health and Hygiene objects from the collection

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products in the Medicine and Science Collections

This group of objects features a wide variety of personal care, hygiene, and beauty products held within the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History.
a variety of counters


Some of the simplest computing devices made and sold are aids to counting.  From ancient to early modern times, scribes performing calculations moved small stones or metal tokens along lines.  More recently, mechanical counters have been widely used to count crowds and objects,  and as parts of machines.

In the nineteenth century, several inventors patented mechanical counters.  Patent models surviving in the Mathematics Collections at the National Museum of American History suggest the range of their concerns. 


Cleveland Many Peoples One Language Poster

Cultures & Communities

Furniture, cooking wares, clothing, works of art, and many other kinds of artifacts are part of what knit people into communities and cultures.

A collection of dividers and compasses in the Division of Medicine and Science's Mathematics collection.

Dividers & Compasses

Dividers and compasses are instruments for mathematical and engineering drawings that have also been used in schools. Additionally, dividers were employed in conjunction with other measuring and calculating instruments, such as sectors. The metal, wood, and plastic objects in this collection were used in Europe, North America, and Japan from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Tiffany Floor Lamp

Domestic Furnishings

Washboards, armchairs, lamps, and pots and pans may not seem to be museum pieces. But they are invaluable evidence of how most people lived day to day, last week or three centuries ago.

An image showing a variety of drafting pens and pencils from the Division of Medicine and Science.

Drafting Pens and Pencils

While writing implements are found throughout NMAH, this object group focuses on about three dozen pens, pencils, and related objects in the mathematics collections. It illustrates some of the diversity in writing tools used for technical drawing in Europe and the United States from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

El Monte sweatshop

El Monte Sweatshop: Operation, Raid, and Legacy

On August 2, 1995, a multi-agency task force led by the California Department of Industrial Relations raided a fenced apartment complex in El Monte, California. What they found was one of the most horrendous U.S. sweatshops in modern times.
A collection of desktop electronic calculators in the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History.

Electronic Calculators—Desktop

The expansion of American business, science, and technology in the years following World War II created a demand for powerful computing machines at a relatively moderate price. The development of compact electronic components—first sturdy vacuum tubes, and then transistors, made this a physical possibility; and led to the introduction of the desktop electronic calculator in the early 1960s.

A collection of desktop electronic calculators in the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American Histor

Electronic Calculators—Handheld

In the course of the 1970s, handheld electronic calculators transformed the way tens of millions of people did arithmetic. Engineers abandoned slide rules, business people gave up desktop calculating machines, and shoppers replaced simple adding machines and adders.

An image of an ellipsograph


A set of eight devices known as ellipsographs used to render ellipses in engineering and architectural drawings.

Embroidered image of Roman lady, with her three children, is depicted with a seated Roman matron holding a box of jewels

Embroidered Pictures

In the early 1800s, silk-embroidered pictures became a popular form of needlework in America, and young women could learn this challenging needlework technique at specialized academies. In addition to patriotic scenes, subjects included classical, biblical, historical, and the ever-popular mourning pictures.

Gasoline Pump

Energy & Power

The Museum's collections on energy and power illuminate the role of fire, steam, wind, water, electricity, and the atom in the nation's history.

Engine Room From Coast Guard Buoy Tender Oak

Engineering, Building, and Architecture

The engineering artifacts document the history of civil and mechanical engineering in the United States.

Bennet Family Record

Family & Social Life

Donations to the Museum have preserved irreplaceable evidence about generations of ordinary Americans.

Burroughs Flowcharting Template, a blue-green plastic flowcharting template that has over twenty flowcharting symbols

Flowcharting Templates

The advent of commercial electronic computers prompted creation of flowcharting templates. These small drawing instruments helped those designing and selling computers to create diagrams that described what a computer program did. Templates became a standard tool of computer programmers, often distributed as a promotional device.

Photo of McCall's Cheese


Part of a nation's history lies in what people eat. Artifacts at the Museum document the history of food in the United States from farm machinery to diet fads.

A Bisected Cube

Geometric Models - Dissected Polyhedra

The polyhedra shown here can be subdivided (dissected) into smaller polyhedra. Sometimes the smaller polyhedra can be rearranged to form other polyhedra.
A collection of Jullien reliefs.

Geometric Models - Jullien Models for Descriptive Geometry

This is a collection of reliefs made by A. Jullien to illustrate his textbook, Cours élémentaire de géométrie descriptive, a Basic Course in Descriptive Geometry.

Ruled Surfaces from Brill's Series 10

Geometric Models - Minimal Surfaces as Soap Films

Specially shaped wire frames, when dunked in appropriate soapy water, produce intriguing mathematical surfaces. These examples were made in Germany and displayed at the 1893 World's Fair held in Chicago.
Mathematical Models of Richard P. Baker

Geometric Models - Models by Richard P. Baker

Physical models illustrating mathematical concepts intrigued Richard P. Baker, an English-born mathematician who studied at the University of Chicago and then taught at the University of Iowa.
A Plane Dissection Arranged Three Ways

Geometric Models – Plane Dissections

Any two polygons of equal area can be divided into a finite number of polygonal pieces that can be arranged to form either polygon. Several dozen examples of intriguing plane dissections, most from the 1930s, survive in NMAH collections.
Brill Model of a Hyperboloid of One Sheet

Geometric Models –Surfaces of Degree Two, in Paper

These interlocking paper sheets, made in Germany and the United States, form collapsible models of surfaces represented by equations of degree two.
Models of regular-faced convex polyhedra

Geometric Models-Regular-Faced Convex Polyhedra

From ancient times, mathematicians have been intrigued by polyhedra, closed surfaces with polygons as sides. They have been especially interested in those in which the polygons are regular – the sides have the same length and the angles are equal. This is a collection of geometric models from the collection of Mathematics in the Division of Medicine and Science.

March on Washington Handbill

Government, Politics, and Reform

The roughly 100,000 objects in this collection reach beyond the possessions of statesmen to touch the broader political life of the nation—in election campaigns, the women's suffrage movement, labor activity, civil rights, and many other areas.

Engraved woodblock of the “Dance of the Nahikai” by Henry Hobart Nichols published in  the Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian, 1883-84.

Graphic Arts: Bureau of American Ethnology

This group contains over 77 examples of the engraved wood blocks and electrotypes used in illustrating the publications of the Bureau of American Ethnology from 1879 until 1965 now in the Graphic Arts collection in the National Museum of American History.

Iron Lung

Health & Medicine

The Museum's collections of medical science artifacts represent nearly all aspects of health and medical practice.

Eli Terry Mass-Produced Clock

Industry & Manufacturing

The Museum's collections document centuries of remarkable changes in products, manufacturing processes, and the role of industry in American life.

Insulin and insulin administering supplies

Insulin and Diabetes Management

Historic objects relating to the management of diabetes

Collage of objects and documents related to history of Japanese American Incarceration

Japanese American Incarceration Era Collection

During the opening months of World War II, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens of the United States, were forced out of their homes and into incarceration camps established by the U.S. government. Many would spend the next three years living under armed guard, behind barbed wire. This collection explores this period when racial prejudice and fear upset the delicate balance between the rights of the citizen and the power of the state. It tells the story of Japanese Americans who suffered a great injustice at the hands of the government, and who have struggled ever since to ensure the rights of all citizens guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Some kinematic models from the Division of Work and Industry.

Kinematic Models

The Smithsonian’s collection of kinematic models is housed in the National Museum of American History. These models were published by the German firm of Martin Schilling at the turn of the 20th century. Kinematic models were used to produce mathematical curves and other mathematical concepts useful to mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

Lace fabric

Lace Collection

The lace collection was started in 1908 to assemble a collection of arts and crafts for the Smithsonian Institution. From the initial 500 pieces it has grown to approximately 6,000 objects. Most of the objects originated in Europe and were donated by American collectors.

A maritime model

Maritime Patent Models

Almost 10,000 patent models reside in the Smithsonian’s collections—about 40 of them demonstrate marine inventions from the 1770s to the 1950s. These watery innovations offer a glimpse of the ways that inventors, particularly in the nineteenth century, sought to overcome the many challenges Americas encountered working and traveling on the water.

Mathematical charts and tables

Mathematical Charts and Tables

Those learning and using mathematics have long consulted tables of numbers. This collection from the Division of Medicine and Science illustrates the role of numbers in everyday American life—in schools, commerce, weights, measurements, banking, taxation, sales, shipping, payroll, manufacturing, gunnery, and public safety.

A few objects associated with charter members of the Mathematical Association of America.

Mathematical Objects Relating to Charter Members of the MAA

In 1915, the Mathematical Association of America formed to encourage advanced mathematics teaching in the United States. To mark the centennial of the organization, we present a few objects associated with charter members of the MAA that survive in the collections of the National Museum of American History.

Mathematical Paintings

Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson

Cartoonist, book illustrator, and children’s author David Crockett Johnson painted over 100 works relating to mathematics and mathematical physics. 80 of these paintings are in the Museum's collections.

Vernier Compass

Measuring & Mapping

Where, how far, and how much? People have invented an astonishing array of devices to answer seemingly simple questions like these.

Coradi Integraph

Mechanical Integrators and Differential Analyzers

. In the nineteenth century, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians devised analog instruments to explore quantities associated with curves. These included intergrators, integraphs, harmonic analyzers and synthesizers, and differential analyzers.
A set of seven copper-soldered wooden volumetric measures from largest to smallest, 1 dekaliter (a dekaliter is 10 liters), 1/2 dekaliter (5 liters), 2 liters, 1 liter, 5 deciliters (a deciliter is 1/10 of a liter or 100 cubic centimeters), 2 deciliters, and 1 deciliter.

Metric System Demonstration Apparatus

These objects illustrate the development of standard American weights and measures. The U.S. Constitution explicitly grants the federal government authority to establish uniform national standards. From 1834, these were customary British units. Not long after the French Revolution of 1789, France introduced a system of weights and measures that survives today as the metric system. These units were adopted internationally during 19th and 20th centuries. While the U.S. took steps to adopt the metric system, current American weights and measures remain a mix of the this system and customary units.

Mexican designs

Mexican America

"Mexican America" is a sampling of objects from the collections of the National Museum of American History. The stories behind these objects reflect the history of the Mexican presence in the United States.

Frank Brownell's Medal of Honor


The Museum's superb military collections document the history of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States.

Consolidated Coal Company Miners showing proper method of shooting coal, March 6, 1924.

Mining Lights and Hats

This group features a variety of mining lamps, lights, hats and helmets from the collection of the Division of Work and Industry. Mining lights include oil-wick lamps, carbide lamps, and safety lamps. The mining hats are often soft caps with metal or leather mounts for a light. The hard plastic helmets have mounts for mining lights, usually electric lamps.

Jesse Fuller's Silvertone Guitar

Music & Musical Instruments

The Museum's music collections contain more than 5,000 instruments of American and European heritage.

Brasher Half Doubloon, United States, 1787

National Numismatic Collection

This searchable online collection contains a small sampling of the National Numismatic Collection. Its diverse holdings represent the history of money and exchange on every inhabited continent over more than three millennia.
Quilt collection

National Quilt Collection

The collection contains more than 500 quilts—both quilts made for functional, utilitarian purposes as bedding, and others made mainly for decorative purposes—and quilt-related items.

Detail of wool coverlet, ca. 1846

National Woven Coverlet Collection

A coverlet is defined as a decorative, woven bedcovering. Sometimes called coverlids or kivers, these bedcoverings have been present in American homes from Colonial times through the Colonial Revival.

Lithograph of

Natural Resources

The natural resources collections offer centuries of evidence about how Americans have used the bounty of the American continent and coastal waters.

Capt. William Andrew Field's parallel rule.

Parallel Rules

Parallel rules help draftsmen, surveyors, cartographers, architects, and navigators draw accurate parallel lines. The collection includes both hinged and rolling parallel rules from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Patent Models

Patent Models: Graphic Arts

Patent Models at the National Museum of American History that relate to graphic arts.

Textile and sewing machine models

Patent Models: Textile and Sewing Machines

This sampling of over 40 patent models includes textile machinery (1837-1840) and sewing machines (1842-1854).

Leica 35mm Camera


The millions of photographs in the Museum's collections compose a vast mosaic of the nation's history.

On the Trail of the Hun by William Aylward

Picturing World War I: America's First Official War Artists, 1918-1919

After the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, the Army commissioned eight artists to record the activities of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France. The mission of America's first official war artists was to capture the wide-ranging activities of American soldiers with the intent of shaping popular understanding of the war at home. Their collective output of more than 700 sketches, drawings, and paintings captured a rich and compelling “in-the-moment” view of the Great War. The Division of Armed Forces History holds over 500 pieces of this official artwork in their collections.

A planimeter with a closed curve.


Situations frequently arise in which a person needs to measure the area of a two-dimensional space bounded by a closed curve. Planimeters are instruments used to help find that area, by tracing the curve with a needle point connected to a measuring wheel that converts the distance of the tracing to the result of an integral function. Planimeter users include cartographers representing landscapes with irregular boundaries, medical professionals measuring an image of a tumor or internal organ, biologists observing irregularly-shaped natural phenomena, or machinists monitoring steam engines for efficiency.

A series of pull cards, soap sculptures, nutcrackers, signs, belt buckles, and other objects created to promote or oppose various U.S. presidential candidates

Political Novelties

The Constitution made the presidency and the positions of senator and representative elective offices. By the early 19th century, rivalries among political factions in the new government led to the creation of a competitive party system. The promotion of candidates among an expanding electorate placed increasing importance on the success of popular political campaigns.

Elvis Presley Record

Popular Entertainment

This Museum's popular entertainment collections hold some of the Smithsonian's most beloved artifacts, such as the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and the Muppet character Kermit the Frog,

an image of a bathtub

Portable Bathtubs: Tub Bathing from the Early 19th and 20th Centuries

Without indoor plumbing, bathing in the early 19th to the early 20th centuries involved filling small portable tubs with water, bucket by bucket. 10 examples of portable bathtubs are featured here.


Printing Matrices for "Narrative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition"

This collection features printing matrices—either engraved plates and blocks or lithographic stones—used to print the Narrative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition and its accompanying volumes.

Some examples of protractors in the collection


Protractors are mathematical drawing instruments used to draw and measure angles, typically used by students in geometry. But protractors have a long history of applications in navigation, surveying, engineering, and war.

Punch Card of the UCLA Computer Club

Punch Cards

Punched paper cards were used to control the operation of looms and proposed for use with calculating devices in the first half of the nineteenth century. They became central to the operation of tabulating machines and later electronic computers.
Birth of Biotech

Recombinant DNA and the Birth of Biotech

Learn the story behind recombinant DNA, an early genetic engineering technique, from its conception in the lab to its commercial use to produce drugs for the pharmacist’s shelf.

Page from the Koran


One hallmark of the American experience captured in the Museum's collections is the nation's broad diversity of religious faiths.

Scales and Rulers

Scale Rules

This group contains length measures (rulers, yardsticks, and the like) as well as other (usually rectangular) instruments for drawing, measuring and calculating. These include architect's scales, plotting scales, triangular rules, and Gunter's scales.

Chemical Balance

Science & Mathematics

The Museum's collections hold thousands of objects related to chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, and other sciences. The mathematics collection holds artifacts from slide rules and flash cards to code-breaking equipment.



Sectors are mathematical calculating instruments chiefly used by Europeans - including in North America —from the 16th to 19th centuries. This collection of 23 objects illustrates the three main forms of sectors. They are made from brass, ivory, and wood, and they range in length from 3" to 13" when folded.

A Eugene Dietzgen Company set of drawing instruments.

Sets of Drawing Instruments

From the 18th through the 20th centuries, instrument makers and retailers sold a selection of dividers, compasses, protractors, curves and triangles, rulers, calipers, sectors, pencils, and other mathematical and drawing tools in sets to draftsmen, architects, builders, and engineers. These sets were often packaged in sturdy wooden cases or pocket holders covered in leather.

An image of various slide rules from the collection of the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History.

Slide Rules

Slide rules were the primary calculating instruments for engineers, scientists, students, and others in North America, Europe, and East Asia from the late 19th century until inexpensive electronic calculators became available in the late 20th century. This collection of over 250 objects also illustrates earlier aspects of the history of slide rules and the variety of calculating tasks that inventors have attempted to simplify by designing slide rules.


Four models of the Liberty Brush automobile lined up outside a Liberty Brush dealership.

Smithsonian Automobile Collection

The transportation collection in the Division of Work and Industry at the National Musuem of American History contains around 80 full-size automobiles. The automobile collection attempts to include significant automotive milestones as cars changed from horseless carriages to an intrinsic part of American life. This presentation is adapted from "Automobiles and Motorcycles in the U. S. National Museum" by Smith Hempstone Oliver.

anatomy of a bicycle blow up

Smithsonian Bicycle Collection

The Smithsonian's cycle collection began in 1889 when J. Elfreth Watkins, curator of transportation, accessioned a velocipede. This group focuses on the bicycles from the 1974 book Wheels and Wheeling: The Smithsonian Cycle Collection. It also includes a few bicycles that appear in America on the Move as well as bicycles that have been recently added to the collection.


A collection of spherometers from the Division of Medicine and Community Life


A set of devices known as spherometers used to measure the radius of curvature of spheres or curved objects such as lenses.

Tennis Racket

Sports & Leisure

The nation's passion for sports is obvious every day—at NASCAR races, kiddie soccer matches, and countless other contests.

A few squares and triangles from the Mathematics collection in the Medicine and Science.

Squares & Triangles

From the 17th through the 20th centuries, draftsmen, surveyors, navigators, military engineers, and architects used set squares, T-squares, L-squares, and drafting triangles to draw vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. These instruments were sometimes combined with scale rules and other drawing instruments.

An array of togo sushi

Sushi Collection

Sushi, a Japanese food that comprises of cooked vinegared rice and ingredients such as fish, seafood, eggs, and vegetables, is a food type that has evolved over the centuries. What was once a delicacy for the nobles in Japan has been popularized to reach a wide domestic and international audience. Sushi, which traditionally comes in various forms, has taken on further adaptations to accommodate to local tastes.

A collection of tabulating machines in the collections of mathematics, Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History

Tabulating Equipment

Beginning in the late 19th century, Americans used special tabulating machines to compile the large quantities of data accumulated by governments, large businesses, and scientists. Operators punched holes in cards. Machines read these, accumulated totals, and sorted the cards for further processing. Tabulating machines would be displaced by electronic computers beginning in the 1950s, although punched cards remained in use somewhat longer.

Nose Cone of a Pigeon-Guided Missile

Teaching Machines and Mechanical Learning

Twentieth century psychologists, notably B.F. Skinner, sought to teach animals – including people - new behaviors by rewarding desired responses. Teaching machines and programmed learning found a place in classroom and arcade.
detail of Puerto Rican basket

Teodoro Vidal Collection of Puerto Rican History

Explore Puerto Rico’s history, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, through the eyes of collector Teodoro Vidal. Vidal captured the island’s history by collecting thousands of objects. Over 80 artifacts are featured here.



The 50,000 objects in the textile collections fall into two main categories: raw fibers, yarns, and fabrics, and machines, tools, and other textile technology.