Memorandum for Mr. William deC. Ravenel, June 5, 1918

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Memorandum from Theodore T. Belote, Curator of the Division of History, outlining suggested plan for collecting World War I materials.


  • Ravenel, William deC
  • United States National Museum
  • War Collection


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


The US National Museum instituted a significant effort to collect material related to WWI during the war's final years and immediately after the war. These materials were immediately put on prominent display throughout the US National Museum.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 192, Box 194, Folder: 2

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • June 5, 1918
  • 20th century

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • WW I
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Collectors and collecting


  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2014-07003 and SIA2014-07004 and SIA2014-07005 and SIA2014-07006 and SIA2014-07007 and SIA2014-07008 and SIA2014-07009

Physical description

Number of Images: 7 Color: Color Size: 8.5w x11h Type of Image: Document Medium: Paper

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[[stamp consisting of 2 rectangles]] [[first rectangle]] WdeCR [[/first rectangle]] [[second rectange]] Jun 5 1918 [[/second rectangle]] 63222 June 5, 1918 R.R. June 6 1918 Memorandum for Mr. Ravenel: In accordance with your suggestion I beg to enclose a brief statement concerning the advisability of the establishment of a war museum collection by the government at the present time. The exhibition by the United States government of an adequate and appropriate collection of objects relating to the history of the present war would stimulate patriotic interest in all war activities and prove of great future educational and patriotic value. The importance of such collections as a means of popular propaganda in connection with war work has been recognized by the British and French governments which have already established such collections. Such an exhibition, if made with the proper discrimination and in a scientific manner would serve as an important source of historical record for the progress of the present struggle. The most appropriate location for such a collection would be in the exhibition halls of the National Museum which is already in the possession of a very large and notable collection of historical relics of former wars. This collection has long been one of the most popular classes of material in the Museum and of very great serve from the educational and patriotic points of view. It could readily be developed to include objects relating to the present war in an economical and efficient manner by the National Museum, through cooperation with the other departments of the government directly engaged in war work, such as the War and Navy Departments. On account of the popular demand for a collection of material relating to the present war, the task of creating such a collection will sooner or later be undertaken, and no branch of the government is so well fitted for this important work as the National Museum. Very respectfully, ^[[Theodore J. Belote]] Curator, Division of History.
63222 THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A WAR MUSEUM COLLECTION BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES. The proposed plan for the establishment of a War Museum collection by the government of the United States may logically be considered under three heads as follows: 1. The desirability of the establishment of such a collection. 2. The available means of making such a collection. 3. The character of the material to be assembled. These three points will now be treated in succession. I THE DESIRABILITY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SUCH A COLLECTION. The desirability of the establishment of a war museum collection by the United States government at the present time and the advantages to be derived by the Government and the public from such an undertaking cannot be overestimated. The matter has already been considered to some extent by the authorities of the National Museum upon the basis of a popular demand as expressed by newspaper articles, one of which is attached here-with, personal letters, and inquiries, and it seems clear that, entirely aside from its permanent educational and scientific value, the exhibition by the Government of an adequate and appropriate collection of this character would stimulate patriotic interest in all the activities of the government directed towards the winning of the war, contributing also to a marked degree to the furtherance of civilian war activities such as the sale of liberty bonds, raising money for the Red Cross
and other undertakings of a similar character. The importance of such collections and their influence in connection with war work has [[strikethrough]]already[[/strikethrough]] been recognized by the British and French governments which have already established such collections. The fact that only a small percent of the population of the United States would actually see the collection would make no material difference as descriptions of the collection and its aim would be diffused in all parts of the country by the public press. No other form of propaganda in the interest of patriotism would be quite so successful and effective in connection with the public as an appeal to the sentiments of [[strikethrough]]the[[/strikethrough]] individuals through actual objects which vividly call to mind the crisis through which we are now passing and which serve to perpetuate the deeds of the brave men and women who are now offering their all in the service of their country. It seems clear that even the temporary acquirement and the exhibition of such museum material [[strikethrough]]as can be acquired[[/strikethrough]] relating the present war would [[strikethrough]]therefore[[/strikethrough]] be of incalculable value as a force for the increase of patriotism and the stimulation of interest in and assistance to all undertakings connected with the war. But in a broader sense the establishment of such a collection as the one proposed would mean far more than a temporary stimulus to winning the war which it would undoubtedly incidently furnish. A collection of the character noted, if made with the proper discrimination, and in a scientific manner, would serve ^[[as]] an important source of historical record for the progress of the greatest struggle ever
engaged in by the United States. The educational, scientific, and patriotic value of such a collection for all future time cannot be overestimated. The value of museum material of this character as a force making for the increase and diffusion of patriotism is very great and has been recognized as such to a marked degree in all European countries. A notable incentive to patriotism is offered by the perpetuation in museum form of the memories of the men and women who have given their services, and in many cases their lives, for their country's good, and of scarcely less value is the preservation of objects relating to those branches of the public service to which these men and women belonged, and to the events with which they were connected. On the whole it may be said with entire safety that no one educational and cultural activity of similar character could be undertaken by the United States government at the present time with the more hearty approval of the people of the United States or one of more relative value to the country at large than the one under discussion. This has been very clearly shown by the interest evinced in all objects and data connected with the present struggle which the people of this country have been in a position to secure and by the numerous inquiries concerning the possibility of the making of such a collection in a larger sense by the government itself. II THE AVAILABLE MEANS OF MAKING SUCH A COLLECTION In view of the magnitude of the proposed work and its importance as regards not only the present but the future, the
method by which the government could accomplish this great under-taking in the most economical, appropriate, scientific, and successful manner should be carefully considered. It would be a matter for regret should such an undertaking be left to private enterprize or to some branch of the government unfitted for the work. The method adopted in this connection should be commensurate in efficiency with the magnitude and importance of the work in question. Fortunately the machinery for the successful prosecution of the undertaking has long been established by the government and an efficient corps of trained workers are already in its employ fully capable with the proper executive assistance, of building up just such a collection as the one needed and placing it on exhibition for the benefit of the public and those students and others who would be interested in special phases of the history of the great war. The Division of History of the U. S. National Museum has long been in charge of a class of material closely approximating the material which it is proposed to collect in connection with the present struggle. It would seem most advisable from the point of view of economy and efficiency to entrust the task of collecting and exhibiting the material now under discussion to the staff of that Division. The National Museum is certainly the appropriate institution for the prosecution of this work and the material thus collected would from the historical point of view be more truly national than any other class of material now in its possession. The Museum's historical collections have long been one of the most popular classes
of material in the possession of the institution. They include personal relics of the men and women who have made America famous, objects connected with events of historical interest, particularly with the past wars of the United States, and objects representing the development of American science and art along certain lines, including notably large collections of military and civil costumes, coins, medals and stamps. To elaborate this collection to include all available material connected with the present war would be to accomplish the aims outlined in the first part of the present statement. This elaboration could be accomplished by the Museum as in the case of the assembling of the original collections, by and with the aid of the other government departments, notably that of the War and Navy Departments, and by the aid of patriotic societies and individuals who have made large contributions to the historical collections. The newly proposed collected could undoubtedly be made an even greater success should it be feasible to secure even a small sum from Congress for its development. III CHARACTER OF THE MATERIAL TO BE ASSEMBLED. It seems clear that at this time no specific lines can be laid down as to the character of the material to be collected in connection with the present scheme. The scope of the collection will naturally develop as the objects are assembled and in general it would seem that any and all objects bearing upon the history of the war would have a place in the collection. It is equally clear, however, that certain classes of material would form the natural basis of the collection and serve as a nucleus about which other
classes of material may be grouped. Among these basic classes of material may be mentioned the following: uniforms of the Army and Navy with accompanying insignia of rank; individual offensive and defensive military and naval equipment; military and nvaal [[mark to indicate this should be "naval"]] flags, ordnance, and other paraphernalia of like character; coins, medal and stamps bearing upon the history of the war; and personal relics of the soldiers, sailors and statesmen connected with the war. Material of the character named pertaining to the allied and enemy countries should also be collected as far as possible. Other general classes of material might be mentioned and will undoubtedly be included but the above will suffice to indicate in general the lines which may be followed and which have already been followed in connection with the historical collections already in the possession of the Museum. It is impossible in a statement of this brief character to explain fully the need of such a collection as a governmental undertaking and the present and future value of such a collection to the country, both from the sentimental and practical points of view, but enough has been said to elucidate the main points and to indicate in a general way at least the importance and timeliness of the undertaking.