Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Commemorates Centenary with New Displays

31 March 2017 | Liz Robertson

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is proud to honor the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry in World War One with 5 new displays across 2 museums, featuring never before seen artifacts and photographs highlighting American involvement in the war.

“Gen. John J. Pershing and World War I, 1917–1918”
The desk and chair from Pershing’s war room at General Headquarters in France, together with a full-size reproduction of the wall map on which he tracked troop movements, will form the new Landmark display for the museum’s third-floor east. The map will show troop locations on the western front the week before armistice was reached. Under Pershing’s command, 2 million American soldiers helped break the stalemate in Europe and win the war for the allies.

“Uniformed Women in the Great War”
The new third-floor east gateway display will explore the active and largely overlooked role played by women throughout the war, both as a part of the preparedness effort before 1917 and afterwards, at home and abroad, as uniformed members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Red Cross, YMCA and Land Army, among others. In a larger historical context, the exhibit will highlight the role of uniformed women in WWI as a precursor to the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s.

“Advertising War: Selling Americans on World War I”
This display will explore what, at the time, was the largest advertising initiative taken by the U.S. government. Aimed at turning public opposition toward foreign entanglements into enthusiastic support for American participation in WWI, the U.S. government launched a poster campaign designed to manipulate public emotion and inspire action. This advertising campaign proved to be one of the most important and powerful tools for shifting public sentiment and inspiring widespread feelings of nationalism.

“Modern Medicine and the Great War”
This display will explore the ways medicine was applied on the battlefield and highlight important wartime advances in medical science. WWI provided a testing ground for the application of new medical technologies and procedures and, in some cases, accelerated their general acceptance or development in a much wider context. Simultaneously, wartime medical practice reflected the larger concerns and prejudices of early 20th-century America as the country coped with the ever-changing complexities of modern industrial society.

“Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War” (National Air and Space Museum)
The exhibition, “Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War,” presented by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, will include several objects and 54 artworks from National Museum of American History’s collection done by commissioned artists and regular soldiers in the American Expeditionary Force. Opening April 6, the exhibit will explore how the Great War represented a shift in wartime artwork. Before WWI, war art largely depicted heroic military leaders and romanticized battles, completed long after the war was over, away from the battlefield. WWI marked a turning point with the appearance of artwork intended to capture moments in a realistic way and by the war’s firsthand participants. The exhibition examines this form of artistic expression from two complementary perspectives: that of the professional artists who were recruited by the U.S. Army, and second, from that of front line soldiers who created artwork during their war service. Together, the displays will shed light on WWI in a compelling and humanistic way.