A Material World

April 8, 1988 – December 1, 2002

National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

1st Floor, near Constitution Avenue entrance Floor Plan

Through artifacts dating from the 1700s to the 1980s, this exhibition traces the changes in the material composition of objects of everyday life. The use of various materials changed as the result of a complex set of factors: industrialization, the depletion of some natural resources, new methods for processing materials, and changes in taste and fashion. The exhibition asks two simple questions: "What is the object made of, and why?"

Highlights include:

  • a jukebox
  • the "Swamp Rat XXX," a dragster driven at a world championship in 1986
  • the "Gold Rush," an aerodynamically designed bicycle made of synthetic materials
  • washing machines made of wood, iron, steel, copper, and aluminum
  • examples of dishes, Tupperware, jewelry, and radios made of plastic, Bakelite, and Kevlar

Video Additions include:

  • Silly Putty: A sample of Silly Putty and a vintage egg from the 1950s are on view.
  • 60 Minutes stopwatch