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World War I exhibits at the National Museum of American History

By Melinda Machado
Director, Office of Communications & Marketing, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The year 2017 marks the centennial of the official United States involvement in the First World War and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will commemorate this anniversary with a number of displays and programs.

si wwi header 1 400The Museum holds a variety of collections demonstrating the transformative history of World War I and of the United States’ participation in it. The objects and their stories help illuminate civilian participation, civil rights, volunteerism, women’s military service, minority experiences, art and visual culture, medical technological development and new technologies of war and peace.

 The public may explore the Museum’s World War I collections at and find information about online exhibits, programming and research. For general information, the public may visit or call (202) 633-1000.

List of Exhibits:

“Advertising War: Selling Americans on World War I”

April 6, 2017 – January 2019

First Floor, Center

Before the advent of radio and motion pictures, art and illustration were the primary forms of mass communication. With the outbreak of World War I, governments, militaries and service organizations hired artists and illustrators to depict the ravages of war and to rally patriotism. The small selection presented in this display gives glimpses of the war front, illustrates participation on the home front, reveals the new roles of women, demonstrates new technologies, shows the breadth of military service, and depicts America’s allies and enemies at that time.

“Modern Medicine and the Great War”

April 6, 2017 – January 2019

First Floor, Center

World War I provided a testing ground for the application of new medical technologies and procedures, and in some cases accelerated their general acceptance or development. Highlighting collections from military and medical history, the display explores how the war experience changed medical practice and shaped the country’s approach to health care in ways that continue to affect us today.

“John J. “Black Jack” Pershing & World War I”

April 6, 2017 – January 2019

Landmark Third Floor East

General John J. Pershing insisted the United States military have an independent American army on the ground when the U.S. entered the Great War. By recreating Pershing’s war office, this display will give the visitor a sense of America’s global reach and influence in World War I and reveal how the U.S. fit into a reshaped global community.

“Uniformed Women in the Great War”

April 6, 2017 – January 2019

Gateway Third Floor East

Of the many ways the Great War divided the past from the future, none was more significant than the reordered place of women in society. Tens of thousands of middle- and upper-class women donned military-style uniforms to serve at home and overseas in civilian relief organizations, as well as in the military. The selection of uniforms on display will highlight the varied roles of uniformed women that allowed them to express their patriotism.

“The Price of Freedom: Americans at War”

World War I Section

Permanent Third Floor East

This 18,000-square-foot exhibition opened in 2004 and surveys the history of the U.S. military from the Colonial era to the present, exploring ways that wars have been defining episodes in American History. The section on World War I explores how Americans reluctantly entered Europe’s “Great War” and helped to tip the balance to Allied victory. Two million American men went to France with the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John J. Pershing. Nearly one million American women joined the workforce, thousands more volunteered in civilian war relief organizations, and for the first time thousands of women joined the United States military as Marines and Yeomen (F).

Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War

Opens April 6, 2017. Closes November 12, 2018.

National Air and Space Museum

The grinding, mechanized nature of World War I, the first global war that involved millions of infantry combatants, has tended to render these soldiers in popular culture as faceless masses rather than individual participants with their own unique stories. In an effort surface the individual of WWI, Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War features 54 artworks produced by the AEF artist program, the first true combat artists, with 29 art photographs of stone carvings created by soldiers in underground living spaces adjacent to the trenches. These spaces were abandoned stone quarries that soldiers on all sides used, a largely unknown aspect of the war, even by WWI specialists. A selection of related artifacts are included to support the content of the art. The AEF artwork has not been extensively displayed since the 1920s. Images of the soldiers’ stone carvings have never been shown in a major museum exhibition.