Smithsonian’s National Museum Celebrates Historical Events With Yearlong Exhibits

Natural History Museum

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will commemorate several major milestones in 2014: the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner, the country’s most famous flag, and the moment when it signified the survival of the young nation in 1814; the centennial of the First Ladies exhibition at the Smithsonian; and the museum’s 50th birthday.

The museum’s keystone celebration will take place on Flag Day, Saturday, June 14, when the Smithsonian invites Americans around the globe to join Raise It Up! in a worldwide commemoration of the flag and the anthem. Raise it Up! Anthem for America will be a call to millions of Americans to participate in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” simultaneously, led by a celebrity artist on the National Mall, steps from the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. Details will be announced this spring. For more information, the public may visit

“The National Museum of American History is proud to be the home of the iconic Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key in 1814 to write passionate lyrics after the relentless but ultimately unsuccessful British bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry,” said John Gray, director of the National Museum of American History. “His song became our national anthem in 1931. Both the anthem and the banner are the most recognized symbols of our country and this year, the flag will serve as a lens through which we will present exhibitions, programs and special events to allow our visitors to examine American identity and to celebrate our shared culture.”

Between June 14 and July 6, the Maryland Historical Society will loan Key’s original manuscript of the “Star-Spangled Banner” lyrics to the museum for a special short-term display, reuniting it for the first time with the flag Key saw at the “dawn’s early light.”

When the museum opened its doors to the public Jan. 23, 1964, as the National Museum of History and Technology, the Flag Hall and the First Ladies Hall were among the first 10 original galleries on view. The Star-Spangled Banner remains at the center of what is now the National Museum of American History, and the First Ladies exhibition continues to be among the most popular with the museum’s 5 million annual visitors.

The museum will mark its 50th anniversary with special exhibitions and programs throughout the year. Selected highlights are:

Michelle Obama’s Second Inaugural Gown: “The First Ladies” Exhibition
Jan. 14–Jan. 19, 2015
As a special one-year loan from the White House, the museum will display First Lady Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown, designed by Jason Wu and worn to the January 2013 inaugural balls. The ruby-colored chiffon gown, on loan from the White House, will temporarily replace Michelle Obama’s first inaugural gown.

Camilla’s Purse
Jan. 24–May 4
Holocaust survivor Camilla Gottlieb’s ordinary life in Vienna was upended into crisis, imprisonment and ultimately to a new life in the United States. Discovered by Gottlieb’s family after her 1964 death, her purse contained letters and papers tracing her trials and triumphs from captivity in the Theresienstadt concentration camp to eventual reunion with her daughter. Objects include the purse, Gottlieb’s 1884 birth certificate and her suitcase with the identification tag carried during her journey.

The Early Sixties: American Science
April 25–Dec. 14
The early 1960s saw rapid innovations in American science, medicine and computing. Discoveries made in the laboratory reshaped the American experience. This display, with objects circa 1964, showcases how the museum encouraged such change by making its visitors better aware of past scientific accomplishments.

The Early Sixties: American Culture
April 25–Dec. 14
This display celebrates the early ’60s as the background for the opening of the museum. That period of American culture straddled a time of dominant traditions and social norms with developing broad-based countercultural and reactionary expressions in response to demands for individual and community freedoms in areas of arts economics, politics and environmental and civil rights issues.

The Quest for a Modern Museum: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Museum of American History
May 16–Sept. 7
This exhibition will document the origins of the National Museum of American History (originally the Museum of History and Technology from 1964-80) and consider what those beginnings mean for the museum today and into the future. The 50-year anniversary display will focus on the museum, circa 1964, as it was originally conceived, designed and built. It will also take a look through the past five decades to see how the museum evolved and transformed into what it is today. 

From Technology to History: 50 Years
May 16–Sept. 7
Modern digital photographic prints of key National Museum of History and Technology and National Museum of American History exhibitions and activities will be on view to showcase the transformation of the museum from one of history and technology into a museum devoted to American history. The photos highlight the exhibitions and new collecting initiatives that led to the evolution of the museum throughout its 50 years.

Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner” Manuscript on view in The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem
June 14–July 6
To mark the bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner, the Maryland Historical Society will loan Key’s original manuscript of the “Star-Spangled Banner” lyrics to the museum for a special short-term display, reuniting it with the flag he saw at “dawn’s early light.” The flag is on permanent display at the center of the National Museum of American History. Visitors can see the fragile 30- by-34-foot wool-and-cotton flag and the manuscript, both on display inside the banner’s specially constructed, environmentally controlled chamber. The chamber is designed and engineered to safeguard the flag while providing maximum visibility to visitors. Low light levels protect the flag, yet dramatically evoke an atmosphere of “dawn’s early light,” similar to what Key experienced on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit

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