It opened last week (November 21) and has been the talk of the town every since. An estimated 15,000 visitors walked through the doors on Friday alone. President & Mrs Bush attended the opening, and Colin Powell was on hand to read a copy of The Gettysburg Address.
Famous historian and author David McCullough was also on hand, and I've included his speech below. It's not very long, and it very eloquently speaks of the importance of the Museum.
No city in America pays homage to our nation’s history as does this our capitol city with its magnificent libraries and archival collections, its Capitol building, White House, its monuments and memorials and great ceremonial avenues, its heroic statues and immortal words writ large in stone. Washington insists that we remember.
It beckons us all to pause and look and learn. And nowhere is the pull stronger than within this incomparable National Museum of American History, now rendered more spectacular than ever. And never has an understanding of our story as a people, of who we are and how we came to be the way we are, and what we stand for, been of such importance as right now.
The thrill, the essential, never ending fascination of all to be found within these walls, whether you’re seeing them for the first or the twenty-ninth time, is that they are all the real thing.
There are no facsimiles here, no reproductions, no approximations. At a time when so much else all around us is synthetic, artificial, a contrivance, here is the treasure house of all historic American treasure houses of the real thing.
For my own part I have worked with the museum’s collections and with a number of the curators over a span of nearly forty years -- first as editor of a series of books called The Smithsonian Library and later as part of the production of the Public Television series Smithsonian World. One curator especially, Robert Vogel, historian of American civil engineering, was an all-important help and inspiration in my research on the story of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am also privileged to serve now on the advisory board of this museum.
It has long seemed to me that all these real things are in their various ways talismans, a talisman being an object with magic power. Their magic power is in the multitude of stories they tell -- our stories -- and the ideas they embody.
A wise teacher once said that history for the student should be “an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas.”
Might it be said then that the glory of this collection is its full spectrum of ideas -- from all that is represented by the portable desk upon which Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence to John Deere’s self-scouring steel moldboard plow, “the plow that broke the prairie,” to Maria Mitchell’s telescope to the radio microphone used by Franklin D. Roosevelt for his fireside chats to Mister Rogers’s red cardigan sweater. No teacher ever reached more children than Fred Rogers.
And, of course, there’s Edison’s light bulb, by itself the very symbol of ideas.
For too long now, as should be plain to everyone, we have been doing an inadequate job of teaching the history of our own country to our children and grandchildren. We have been raising several generations of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate. And we can’t blame them for not knowing what they were never taught. It is we, the parents and grandparents, who are mainly at fault. The chief problem with American education is us and we have to do something about it.
We have to take part -- we have to talk about the history of our country with our children, put the books we’ve loved and learned from in their hands. And take them to historic places! Bring them to Washington, bring them here to this museum, and let them see for themselves, and let them see how much it means to us, that maybe most of all.
How can we love our country and take no interest in its story?
The eminent historian Daniel Boorstein, an earlier director of this museum, once said, “Trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.” It won’t work. And far too much is at stake.
Among the lesser known and most engaging displays amidst so much to be seen here is a collection of mouse traps, delightful samples of American creativity and inventiveness.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who famously said, “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse trap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
Ladies and gentlemen, a far better museum has been made here, not in the woods but on the incomparable Mall of our Capitol, and may the world beat a path to its door. And as of Friday, November 21, 2008, the door is open!"