“America On The Move” Exhibition Opens Nov. 22 at National Museum Of American History

See How We Got Here

Get your kicks on 40 feet of Route 66, commute on the Chicago “L” train, marvel at the massive 199-ton, 92-foot-long “1401” locomotive and find the kitchen sink in “America on the Move.” This new exhibition opens on Nov. 22 with a grand opening festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History beginning at Noon.

“America on the Move” allows visitors to travel back in time and experience transportation as it changed America. It encompasses nearly 26,000 square feet on the first floor of the museum, and includes 340 objects and 19 historic settings in chronological order. From the coming of the railroad to a California town in 1876 to a multi-media experience of life in Los Angeles in 1999, “America on the Move” takes visitors on a fascinating journey.

“Mobility is the defining experience in American life. For the first time, the Smithsonian will be able to present its extraordinary transportation collections in a historical context. ‘America on the Move’ is destined to be one of our most visited exhibitions and we are thrilled with the support from Congress and corporations, foundations and associations that is making this presentation possible,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

In recognition of General Motors’ support, the hall is named the General Motors Hall of Transportation and will include two exhibitions, “America on the Move” and a companion exhibition, “On the Water: Stories from Maritime America,” to open at a later date. 

Initial support for the exhibition came from a $3 million congressional appropriation through the U.S. Department of Transportation. General Motors is the principal sponsor with $10 million and AAA, the nation’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, is contributing $5 million. State Farm Companies Foundation is providing a $3 million gift. The $3 million contribution by The History Channel includes direct support of the exhibition and production of the extensive video elements. ExxonMobil made a $2 million contribution. Both AAA and ExxonMobil are including major national marketing initiatives as part of their donations. There are five $1 million donors to the exhibition: the American Public Transportation Association (APTA); the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA); the Association of American Railroads (AAR); the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the UPS Foundation.

The funding covers the complete renovation of the museum’s Hall of Transportation and the production and installation of the “America on the Move” exhibition with multi-media elements, a national education program, public programs, a Web site, promotional activities, and at least twenty years of maintenance for the show. The cost of the hall renovation and the exhibition together is approximately $22 million.

The congressional funds enabled the museum to develop the exhibition script and design before any private sector fundraising began. Most of the museum’s transportation exhibitions had not been significantly remodeled since the museum opened in 1964.

“America on the Move” transports visitors back in time and immerses them in the sights, sounds and sensations of transportation in the U.S. from 1800 to the present. The exhibition showcases the Smithsonian’s popular transportation collections in historic settings brought to life by large mural backdrops, 73 cast figures and soundscapes. Among the moments explored are the coming of the railroad to a California town in 1876, the role of the streetcar and the automobile in creating suburbs, and the transformation of a U.S. port with the introduction of containerized shipping in the 1960s. 

As they travel through the show, visitors are able to see large and impressive objects, including a Chicago Transit Authority “L” car, a 92-foot Southern Railway locomotive and a 40-foot stretch of the famed Route 66. Multimedia technology and environments allow visitors to see these artifacts as they once were, a vital part of the nation’s transportation system and of the business, social and cultural history of the country. 

“The history of transportation is central to the American experience. In “America on the Move” we explore our nation’s history by showing how transportation affected how and where people lived, worked and played,” said Steven Lubar, project director for the exhibition and chair of the museum’s History of Technology division. 

Exhibition Development and Design -- The “America on the Move” exhibition is a collaboration of almost a dozen historians and curators at the museum, with expertise in transportation, social and labor history. The exhibition was designed by the Museum Design Associates of Cambridge, Mass.; AMAZE Design of Boston; and the SmithGroup, of Washington, D.C.

Web site -- The site offers virtual visitors a look at the exhibition plus unprecedented public access to the museum’s collection of nearly 1,200 artifacts and photographs related to the story of transportation in America.

Companion Book -- “On the Move: Transportation and the American Story,” an illustrated 320-page hardcover book, expands on the exhibition and features more than 200 color photographs, maps and personal anecdotes and was published by the National Geographic Society earlier this month.


The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at https://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.

Media onlyMelinda Machado/ Will Shurley
(202) 633-3129