On December 8, 1992, the Hands on History Room opened at the National Museum of American History. The 3,000-square-foot room featured more than forty hands-on historical activities for Museum visitors to experience. Activities included harnessing a mule, separating raw cotton fibers from the seed by cranking a cotton gin (very hard physical work), using a sewing machine without electricity (by way of a foot treadle), and catching the view from a high wheeler bicycle. Whatever the experience, It all seems like a really useful way to get literally “in touch” with how much work was involved in tasks we have no experience with or real understanding of. But what was available for those who wanted a more personal link to the past?
One section featured a peddler’s pack filled with typical items for sale to be handled. Along with this, was a map and story tracing the route of an immigrant peddler named Nathan Adler as he walked through Upstate New York in 1848 selling his wares. Another section explored making shoes without machines and featured the names of these workers in census records. And not everything was industrial. One exhibit gave visitors the chance to learn about Zuni pottery and then make their own paper pot and paint it.
Although activities in the Hands on History Room appear to be for kids, experiences were geared to visitors of all ages and, judging from the reviews in the papers and the pictures that we have here, everyone enjoyed getting into the act.
- Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, museum history, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives