National Museum of American History Receives Save America’s Treasures Grant

Funding Will Preserve the Revolutionary War-Era Gunboat Philadelphia

Scan of the USS Philadelphia, a Revolutionary War-era gunboat

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service through the Save America’s Treasures grant program to preserve the gunboat USS Philadelphia, a registered National Historic Landmark. The grant was awarded through a competitive process and requires a dollar-for-dollar, non-federal match. With Save America’s Treasures funds, organizations and agencies conserve significant U.S. cultural and historic treasures, which illustrate, interpret and are associated with the great events, ideas and individuals that contribute to the nation’s history and culture.

The museum is home to the Revolutionary War-era gunboat Philadelphia that, due to its age and history, is in critical need of conservation treatment to ensure its long-term preservation and its availability to generations of visitors to come.

In spring 2019, the museum kicked off a multiyear project to ensure the long-term preservation of the Philadelphia. The completion of the conservation work for the ship is scheduled to coincide with the nation’s commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

“The Philadelphia is not only one of the largest artifacts in the museum’s collections but also a powerful symbol of the birth of the nation, and we look forward to celebrating with all Americans,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the museum. “With its acquisition came an immense responsibility to the patriots of the Revolutionary War and the Americans of today and tomorrow, and we are grateful to Save America’s Treasures for recognizing the importance of the conservation and supporting it with this grant.”

The Philadelphia was built in summer 1776 under the direction of Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold and the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, along with seven identical ships, in what is considered America’s first Navy. On Oct. 11 of that year, the fleet met British forces off Valcour Island near the New York shore of Lake Champlain. The Philadelphia was badly damaged and sunk during the battle, and it remained lost at the bottom of Lake Champlain until it was discovered in 1935. The boat was on display for tourists in the Lake Champlain region until it, along with the original equipment and the cannon ball that issued the ship’s fatal blow, was moved to the National Museum of American History in 1961, just before the completion of the museum’s construction and eventual opening to the public in 1964.

The museum has contracted with experts from Texas A&M University (Nautical Archeology Program and Center for Maritime Archeology and Conservation), who will work alongside the curatorial team on-site at the museum in view of the public to enable visitors to follow the process. The initial funding for the gunboat Philadelphia conservation project was donated by the museum’s board in honor of John L. Gray, the museum’s previous director.

More information and a video about the Philadelphia and its history are available online. The public is invited to support this conservation effort to save one of the treasures that shaped the nation.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, PK–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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SI-23-2024

Valeska Hilbig
(202) 309-2152 m
hilbigv@si.edu

Melinda Machado
(202) 633-3129 o
machadom@si.edu