only: Melinda Machado (202) 357-3129
Linda St.Thomas (202) 357-2627 ext. 108
Nation’s Flagship History Museum
Explores a Uniquely American Office – The Presidency –
in Exhibition of Unprecedented Size and Scope
the opening of "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,"
the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History brings together
for the first time objects that represent the lives and times of
the country’s 42 presidents. The exhibition opens on Wednesday,
the story of the American presidency, the National Museum of American
History, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will
feature a range of new media and interactive experiences. The key
storytellers, however, are the more than 900 artifacts on view in
"The American Presidency," most drawn from the museum’s
holdings of more than 3 million objects, by far the largest collection
of its kind in the nation.
the exhibition’s highlights are Thomas Jefferson’s wooden lap desk
on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence; the carriage
Ulysses S. Grant rode to his second inauguration; the top hat worn
by Abraham Lincoln the night of his assassination; George Washington’s
battle sword; Bill Clinton’s military case—used to contain the topmost
national security information; a 1999 script from the TV drama "The
West Wing"; and the suit worn by Harrison Ford in the 1997
movie "Air Force One."
Secretary Lawrence M. Small says, "We ask a lot of our presidents.
We have expected
them to be father, brother, general, diplomat, arbitrator, economist,
pitchman, publicist, cheerleader and a dozen things more. We take
for granted that the same person who has the qualities to command
armies and deploy an arsenal of awful force will also be available
to launch a baseball season. This exhibition shows all these aspects
of the job."
museum team responsible for the exhibition is headed by historian
Spencer R. Crew, the museum’s director; Lonnie G. Bunch, associate
director for curatorial affairs; and Harry R. Rubenstein, political
was no precedent for the American presidency when the framers of
created the office in 1787," says Crew. "Yet these revolutionaries—who
authority—entrusted near-monarchical powers to this one office.
I hope that visitors will come away from this exhibition with a
better understanding of this fundamental contradiction, and how
it has given rise to conflicting impulses and realities that continue
to shape our country’s political life even today."
American Presidency" has been made possible by the generous
support of individual donors and corporate partners including: Kenneth
E. Behring, The History Channel, Chevy Chase Bank, Cisco Systems
Inc., Elizabeth and Whitney MacMillan, and Heidi and Max Berry.
Additional sponsors include: Automatic Data Processing Inc.; Business
2.0; KPMG LLP; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; and T. Rowe Price Associates,
Inc. The United States Congress has supported the exhibition and
a future traveling component with a $2 million federal appropriation.
visitor to "The American Presidency" experiences the history
of this uniquely American office through 11 sections set in more
than 9,000 square feet of gallery space. Visitors enter the exhibition
through a section titled "Presidential Campaigns," where
they are greeted by a video montage of presidents on the campaign
trail, and continue into "Swearing In," where presidents
since Franklin D. Roosevelt can be heard reciting the oath of office.
Further along, in "Creating the Presidency," artifacts
dating to the earliest days of the nation’s history speak of George
Washington the man and icon, and the conflicted nature of the office’s
section "Celebrating Inaugurations" examines the complex
nature of American inaugurations as part carnival, part coronation
and part celebration that the torch of democracy once again has
been passed in peace. It includes the oldest known photograph of
an inauguration (James Buchanan, 1857). In "Presidential Roles,"
an interactive activity will allow visitors to use a teleprompter
to deliver an actual presidential address. Objects in this section
are arranged around a central artifact—the desk on which Thomas
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
American Presidency" continues with a look at the private family
life in the White House in a section that features china from the
Ronald Reagan White House, blue silk pajamas worn by Warren G. Harding
and Chelsea Clinton’s ballet slippers.
on the "Limits of Presidential Power" makes note of the
Constitutional and political limits on the president, and the impeachment
proceedings brought against Bill Clinton (with
Congressional documents) and John Dean’s personal copy of his Watergate
and Mourning" traces the sad beginnings of the nation’s tradition
of ritualized mourning back to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln
and through the death and funerals
of James A. Garfield, FDR and John F. Kennedy. Among the poignant
objects here are the drum played during Lincoln’s funeral procession
and the top hat he wore on the night of his assassination.
the Presidency" presents such objects as a microphone used
by FDR in a radio "fireside chat" and a Dwight D. Eisenhower
era copy of "A Guide to Your Television Appearance." In
"The Presidency in Popular Imagination," representations
of the presidency have served to celebrate, criticize, satirize
and memorialize the office holders. Visitors will see street signs
from towns across America bearing president’s names; political cartoons;
a Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider doll and Teddy Bear; and sheet
music for songs such as "Old Abe Came Out of the Wilderness."
American Presidency" ends with a section on life after the
White House, with objects ranging from Washington’s wing chair to
Teddy Roosevelt’s African safari camp desk to Eisenhower’s golf
than a dozen videos, produced in partnership with The History Channel,
will be shown continuously in the exhibition including news footage
and film clips on presidents in crisis (such as the Iran hostages
and the Great Depression); along with "home movies" of
life in the White House; and feature films that depict the president.
series of films, lectures, storytelling, conversations, demonstrations,
interviews, panels, living history programs, family programs, music,
and school tours will kick-off with an opening celebration beginning
will feature a navigation system linking objects from the exhibition
and presidents to historic eras. The site includes a teacher’s manual
produced in partnership with The History Channel with activities
for grades 4-12.
208-page companion book, titled The American Presidency,
features more than 300 color photographs and 50 duotones. Published
by Smithsonian Institution Press, the book will retail for $50 hardcover
and $24.95 in softcover.
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