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Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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          Throughout history there have many influential buildings that have made an impact on the population. Some of these buildings include monuments, museums, and other prominent locations that have helped shape the foundations of America. One of the most popular buildings that houses much of America’s history is the Smithsonian Institute located in our nation’s capital, Washington DC. This institution is known for is known for its educational purposes and research, most of which is funded by the United States government. The majority of the facilities that are associated with the Smithsonian, including nineteen museums, a zoo, and nine research labs, are located in Washington DC, though there are other locations in New York City and Virginia. These different locations contain a compilation of historical artifacts, totaling more than 136 million items, making it the largest museum complex in the world.
          The Smithsonian’s birth was initiated by a bequest to the United States from the British scientist James Smithson in 1826. Smithson’s will stated that if his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, died without heirs the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men” (Smithsonian). In 1835, Henry James Hungerford died without an heir, and President Andrew Jackson informed Congress of the bequest. After accepting the gift, the money was placed in bonds that turned out to be unstable, and it wasn’t until former President John Quincy Adams argued to restore the lost funds that the Smithson’s gift was at last viable. On July 1, 1836, Congress accepted the legacy that was bequeathed to the United States. In September of 1838, Smithson’s legacy totaled in at 100,000 gold sovereigns and was delivered to a mint in Philadelphia where it was re-coined into American currency, approximating more than $500,000. It wasn’t until August 10, 1846 that President James K. Polk established the Smithsonian Institution as a trust to be administered by the Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.
          Out of the nineteen museums that the Smithsonian holds, one of the most prominent and popular ones would be the National Museum of American History, or formerly known as the Museum of History and Technology. This building, along with many other buildings along the east coast is made out of Stony Creek Granite, which is found in Branford, Connecticut. For more than 150 years, Stony Creek Granite has legitimately been one of the foundations of America and has been used in numerous buildings such as the New England Conservatory of Music, Grand Central Station, and many others. Stony creek granite traces its distinctive qualities back hundreds of millions of years ago, to a time when the Earth was operating at intense pressures causing temperatures that totaled over 1300*F. This particular stone was formed as it began to cool and solidify. When the Connecticut River shifted eastward after the last ice age, the pink granite was exposed throughout Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands region. 

          The National Museum of American History was originally opened to the public in January of 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. This particular building was the sixth building to be added to the National Mall in Washington DC. On June 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing $36 million to be used for museum’s construction. Once Eisenhower authorized these funds to be used for the museum, plans toward construction then began on August 22nd when architects McKim, Mead, and White designed the layouts for the building. In 1961, they were succeeded by architects Steinman, Caine, and White because the original three retired (The National Museum of American History was the last building that they designed and is also constructed of Connecticut’s popular Stony Creek Granite). The area of the museum is approximately 750,000 square feet including the basement, three main exhibition floors, two office collection levels, and the mechanical penthouse located on the roof. Because the museum is located on the National Mall it qualifies as a National Landmark. Also, because it was the last building that was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the museum is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historical Places.
          In 1980 the museum’s name was changed from the Museum of History and Technology to the National Museum of American History in order to better represent the collection of artifacts and show the experience of the American people. Recently, the museum underwent a two year, $85 million renovation of the building’s core, greatly changing the museum’s architecture while reorganizing and renewing the presentation of the most popular and famous exhibits. There were three major areas that were affected by the renovation of this building including the center core, composed of the grand staircase and skylight, the construction of the new Star-Spangled Banner Gallery, and lastly the building’s infrastructure. Since the completion of the renovation, the museum has opened many new galleries to the public. There are now more than 4 visitors to the museum a year, while millions make the journey through this museum online.
         The National Museum of American History contains over three million artifacts that are displayed throughout the three levels of exhibits. Some of these artifacts include the original Star-Spangled Banner, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, and even Dorothy’s red slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The compilation of these artifacts represents the history and foundations of America through different time periods, genres, and styles. There are vast quantities of themes that run throughout the museum ranging from the War of Independence to present day. One of the popular exhibits at the museum is The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, which depicts the history of the United States militia and how we have fought for our freedom throughout history. America on the Move shows visitors how transportation has evolved over a time frame ranging from 1870 to present day. Some of the most popular exhibits that have recently been renovated include The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, Within these Walls, and First Ladies at the Smithsonian. All of the different exhibits in the museum each represent a part of America that has changed over time and offers a different perspective on how people lived during different decades. The National Museum of American History provides an ideal timeline in which ones can immerse themselves in the past and present and grasp a full understanding of everything American has to offer.
         The National Museum of American History is broken up into three floors of exhibits. The first floor contains topics that are related to transportation and technology. The previously mentioned exhibit American on the Move is located on this floor, along with John Bull locomotive which is the signature artifact found in this portion of the museum. Also on this floor is the science and innovation section, which includes a fabulous exhibit of Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian. The second floor of the museum concerns American ideals and contains the Albert Small Documents Gallery featuring rotating exhibits. For a short period of time, an original copy of the Gettysburg Address was found on the floor while it was on loan from the White House. This floor is home to the original Star-Spangled Banner Flag which inspired the poem of Francis Scott Key. On the opposite side of this floor, the theme is more focused on American lives, and houses the most prominent artifact in this wing, the George Washington Statue, which was created in 1841 for the centennial of Washington’s birthday.  In the East Wing of the third floor, the topic concerns American wars and politics which include the exhibit, The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. Also located on this floor is the Clara Barton Red Cross ambulance, which is the most significant artifact found in this particular exhibit. The West Wing of this floor focuses on American culture in regards of music, sports, and entertainment throughout the ages. Another interesting thing located in the National Museum of American History is the lunch box exhibit found on the lower level which celebrates this history of American lunch boxes.
         Overall, the National Museum of American History, of formerly known as the Museum of History and Technology has remained an influential building in America since its construction in the early 1960s. This building was designed by American architects who used materials found in the soil of the United States, Stony Creek Granite, to make a foundation that will withstand many centuries to come. The granite used in the structure of the National Museum of American history is a stone that is used throughout the country in prominent building, thus forever leaving its impression on mankind. Out of the nineteen buildings that make up the entity of the Smithsonian, only the National Museum of American History is made of Stony Creek Granite. In regards to the extent of the amount of stony creek granite that was used and where is resides in the building is unknown, however it is known that this stone coming straight from the depths of America has been incorporated into the skeleton of this important building. The Smithsonian is a revolutionary museum that houses millions of artifacts sequencing American history from centuries ago to present day. It is one of those monumental places that will never cease in popularity, and is legitimately one of the many foundations of America.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 14:29  


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