WWI Museum – 100 Years of Collecting


How does a museum collection begin? Where do you start? How do you continue? How do you determine what should/shouldn’t become a part of a collection? Can a collection ever become complete?

That National WWI Museum and Memorial started amassing objects and documents from the First World War in 1920 and has continually addressed these questions ever since.

A pair of special exhibitions opening on Monday, June 1 for members and on Tuesday, June 2 when the National WWI Museum and Memorial reopens to the public shed light on how the organization came to possess the most comprehensive World War I collection in the world. 100 Years of Collecting and 100 Years of Collecting – Art provide a window to examine incredibly diverse objects and documents – the vast majority of which have never been on exhibition before.

Both exhibitions are open from June 2, 2020 – March 7, 2021. Entry to both exhibitions is included with general admission to the Museum and Memorial.


“The founders of the National WWI Museum and Memorial possessed incredible foresight and made the decision to collect on a global scale as opposed to solely focusing on the United States perspective of the war. It cannot be overstated how critical that choice was in guiding this spectacular collection to be the broadest in the world,” said Museum and Memorial Senior Curator Doran Cart. “These exhibitions tell the incredible story of the birth, expansion and continuation of a museum collection throughout the past 100 years.”

In 100 Years of Collecting, nearly 20 countries/empires across the world are represented in the exhibition, including the Austro-Hungarian empire, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Several nations – including Mexico, Spain and Sweden – are represented despite positions of neutrality during World War I due to having supplied items that were used at some point during the conflict.

100 Years of Collecting features an exhaustive number of objects and documents, both with respect to quantity and diversity of the items themselves. Highlights include a formal court frock coat and vest worn by Imperial Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s personal household staff and aides, 100+ year-old soldier-issued hardtack (hard bread) and a sign from 1942 indicating the Memorial would be closed due to potential threats of WWII-related sabotage. The exhibition also features the lectern used by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge at the Nov. 11, 1926 dedication of what eventually became the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Coolidge spoke before 150,000 people – the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed.

Though the Museum and Memorial has focused on World War I material culture since the establishment of the collection, it has amassed significant works of art from around the globe – many of which are featured in 100 Years of Collecting – Art. Percy Moran, nephew of famed landscape artist Thomas Moran, created a work in 1923 of General John J. Pershing at the Tomb of Lafayette. This visit, on July 4, 1917, soon after the first Americans arrived in Paris, was to honor Lafayette’s gallant assistance in the American Revolution.

A striking piece from an unknown artist in 1915 was done after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. The watercolor shows Uncle Sam with a black eye and cuts, but rolling up his sleeves ready for a fight. The model was reportedly U.S. Senator James A. Reed from Missouri.

Additionally, Memory Hall – the location for 100 Years of Collecting – itself boasts monumental works. The mural at the east end by noted muralist and illustrator Jules Guerin, In Memoriam, 1914 – 1918, was in place when the Museum and Memorial opened to the public in 1926 as were the painted battle maps by famed muralist and painter D. Putnam Brinley. The other murals, Liberty Memorial Site Dedication, American Women in Service and the Blue and Gold Star Mothers were created by Kansas City artist Daniel MacMorris, who was also responsible for the acquisition and reconfiguration of the Panthéon de la Guerre – formerly the largest painting in the world.

Both exhibitions are open from June 2, 2020 – March 7, 2021. Entry to both exhibitions is included with general admission to the Museum and Memorial.