Through culture we explore what it means to be American.
 

American culture—our entertainment, our art, and our creative expressions of daily life—has the power to captivate, inspire, and transform us. It brings us together—we share it when we spontaneously recite lines from a favorite movie, dance to the same groove, or recreate a national sports moment on a neighborhood street. It enables us to understand and appreciate our differences—some of the most vital expansions of our democracy, in fact, gained ground through pivotal cultural moments.  It spurs important conversations, and can foster important historical change.

The National Museum of American History is home to treasured objects and stories about American culture. Come enjoy our exhibitions and programs, or explore our online resources.
 

Ruby slippers on display at the museum
Dorothy's ruby slippers on display at the museum

New culture displays

The first phase of the museum’s new Culture Wing features displays that explore American history through culture, entertainment and the arts.

  • A 14-foot stained-glass window (pictured at top), one of four that originally graced the tower of the Victor Company’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, serves as the Culture Wing’s landmark object. Its image of “Nipper,” the dog listening to his master’s recorded voice, became the Recording Corporation of America’s trademark image.
  • The “Ray Dolby Gateway to Culture” features America’s Listening, a display of five American innovations relating to recorded sound.
  • Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz ar displayed in a new, state-of-the-art display case, after a year of research and conservation treatment. (Please note: the Ruby Slippers were removed from display after June 12 to prepare for their re-installation in the museum's upcoming exhibition, Entertainment Nation/Nación del espectáculo, opening December 9). Other displays feature a series of iconic objects relating to culture, sports, entertainment, and the arts.
  • The stunning new Nicholas F. and Eugenia Taubman Hall of Music anchors the floor. This dedicated venue provides a home for our celebrated Smithsonian Chamber Music Society and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, as well as a variety of other live performances.

A major exhibition scheduled to open in 2022, Entertainment Nation/Nación del espectáculo, will explore American history through the long-standing power of entertainment and examine the deep and enduring influence of the nation’s entertainment. Within the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Hall of American Culture, the 7,000 square-foot exhibition will show how entertainment brings Americans together, shapes them, and provides a forum for important national conversations about politics, society, culture, and what it means to be an American.

Explore Further

  • Listen to stories about iconic artifacts from the museum's collection, including Fonzie's leather jacket, Archie Bunker's chair, and Dorothy's ruby slippers, in the podcast series Lost at the Smithsonian with Aasif Mandvi.
  • Explore oral history excerpts and personal reflections on our entertainment collection from over 50 leading culture-makers in The American Scene.
  • Watch our curators discuss the connection between entertainment and social change in this recorded virtual program “Social Justice on Film.”

From Our Blog

Martha Raye in conversation with members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Raye and the soldiers sit outside on benches.

Entertainer Martha Raye's life changed forever when she joined the fledgling United Service Organizations (USO) during World War II. The experience gave Raye a lifelong calling of entertaining and serving the nation’s service personnel in the field.

Four images. Leather pants and jeans, orange and white Cuban rumba dress, a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball jersey with the player number 21, and a margarita machine decorated with faux-wood paneling.

From wooden crosses to baseball uniforms to costume butterfly wings, our collections show that Latinx people have been an important part of U.S. history since the nation’s beginnings.

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