Major Gift to Fund Education Initiatives and Learning Space at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

History’s “American Pickers” Contribute to Museum’s Teaching Collection
September 4, 2014

Philanthropist and education advocate Phyllis Taylor has donated $7.5 million for education outreach and a new learning space to be named the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Object Project, opening July 2015 in the museum’s renovated west wing, will focus on “everyday things that changed everything” and will encourage visitors of all ages to discover American history through games, activities and authentic touchable objects.

A portion of the gift will be used to fund an endowment to serve K–12 student and teacher outreach and programming. Object Project, an almost 4,000-square-foot space, will allow visitors to learn how new technologies and social changes affected each other and influenced American life. Visitors can explore how bicycles, electric refrigerators, ready-to-wear clothing and household items, ranging from window screens to light bulbs, transformed the lives of Americans in ways that shape people’s lives today.

Object Project will feature approximately 250 objects displayed within a 9-by-40-foot sculpture that will form the spine of the learning space. Glass-fronted cases will hold a variety of common objects with uncommon stories, including a jeweled bicycle, patent models for folding furniture, early examples of a VHS player, dishes for leftover food, hearing aids and toys, such as a Suzy Homemaker refrigerator, Gameboy and paper dolls.

Approximately 25 to 50 objects will be “picked” exclusively for the museum’s teaching collections by Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of History channel’s television show American Pickers. The public will be allowed to touch objects chosen by Wolfe and Fritz; the objects will be displayed in open boxes or used in hands-on activities.

“The Taylor Foundation’s generous gift will allow visitors to learn about the history of innovation and help them find connections between innovative ideas and society’s needs,”  said the museum’s MacMillan Associate Director for Education and Public Engagement, Judy Gradwohl.  “Many familiar objects were innovations that changed everyday life in the past, and helped shape American life today. Object Project will put history into the hands of our visitors.”

The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation originated in New Orleans in 1985, with the mission to promote the common good, primarily by promoting educational opportunities based solely on each individual’s ability and willingness to learn. Taylor, a petroleum engineer, founded a drilling company, a consulting company and the Taylor Energy Co. He was responsible for the legislation in Louisiana known as the Taylor Plan, a policy that provides state-paid tuition to students who qualify, allowing them to attend in-state higher education institutions despite the financial costs. Following his death in 2004, Phyllis M. Taylor, his wife, became CEO of the Taylor Energy Co. and the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation. She has been a member of the Smithsonian National Board since 2009.

American Pickers' Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz were born and raised in Iowa and have been pickers and friends since childhood. These self-proclaimed “modern-day recyclers” are on a mission to tell “the history of America one piece at a time” through their adventures across the nation. Their program follows them as they scour the country for hidden gems in junkyards, basements, garages and barns, meeting quirky characters and hearing their amazing stories. History and its parent company, A&E Television Networks, is a generous supporter of the National Museum of American History.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit 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. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.