Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

  • images for Dorothy's Ruby Slippers-thumbnail 1
  • images for Dorothy's Ruby Slippers-thumbnail 2
  • images for Dorothy's Ruby Slippers-thumbnail 3
Sixteen-year-old Judy Garland wore these sequined shoes as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy's magic slippers are silver; for the Technicolor movie, they were changed to ruby red to show up more vividly against the yellow-brick road. One of several pairs used during filming, these size-five shoes are well-worn, suggesting they were Garland's primary pair for dance sequences.
Wizard of Oz
Motion Pictures
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Garland, Judy
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
fabric (overall material)
fiber, synthetic (overall material)
adhesive (overall material)
fabric, felt (overall material)
overall: 5 in x 3 in x 9 1/2 in; 12.7 cm x 7.62 cm x 24.13 cm
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Entertainment
National Treasures exhibit
Popular Entertainment
American Stories
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Place Made
United States: California, Los Angeles
Object Name
shoes, pair of
Object Type
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL

Where is the Smithsonian?

"Where is the Smithsonian?" flyer, March 1985, Accession 14-034 - Office of Visitor Services, Publications, 1959, 1973-2013, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. no. SIA2014-00103a.

One of the questions most frequently asked of anyone with a badge on the National Mall is "Where is the Smithsonian?"  Many visitors assume that the Smithsonian is a single building where they can see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Ruby Slippers, and the Hope Diamond all under one roof.

The often confusing reality is that the Smithsonian is actually made up of 19 museums, the National Zoo, and 9 research centers.  Many of the museums are along the National Mall, but others are scattered around Washington, DC and the surrounding region.  There are even two Smithsonian museums in New York City and research facilities in locations as diverse as Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona, Panama, and Belize.

Map of the National Mall - "Where is the Smithsonian?" flyer, March 1985, Accession 14-034 - Office of Visitor Services, Publications, 1959, 1973-2013, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. no. SIA2014-00103b.

To address the question at the beginning of this post, the Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center (now the Office of Visitor Services) published a flyer in March 1985 encouraging visitors to stop by the Smithsonian Institution Building (better known as "The Castle") for an orientation.  The flyer – appropriately titled "Where is the Smithsonian?" – is illustrated with a frazzled woman attempting to find her way while dealing with two impatient children.  On the back is a map of the museums along or near the National Mall.

The flyer was updated several times during the 1980s.  Today, the Castle is still the place to go for an in-person orientation, but many visitors go to the Smithsonian's website to plan their trips.  And for those who want that modern equivalent to carrying around a map, there's an app for that.

Related Collections

Related Resources

Blog Categories: 
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Smithsonian Institution Archives
See more posts
The Bigger Picture | Smithsonian Institution Archives
Published Date
Thu, 02 Jan 2014 12:00:00 +0000
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts

Volunteer Museum Ambassadors make all of our visitors VIPs

Do Dorothy's ruby slippers still work if you tap them together three times? What's with the punctuation in our national anthem? Where can I find a dragon on display?

As a museum "ambassador," I am among 20 volunteers in blue shirts who greet visitors and answer questions like these. We get to share in the curiosity of a child, the nostalgia of returning visitors, the treasure hunt of students assigned to find important historical objects, and the amazement of those experiencing our eye on the nation's history for the first time.

An ambassador in a blue shirt stands by the museum map and helps a mom and daughter

We can tell you where to find the First Ladies dresses, the nearest restrooms, and Julia Child's kitchen. You only have 45 minutes before your tour bus leaves? Interested in the Civil War or pirate ships? Here from another country? We can help recommend a meaningful museum visit just for you.

There's more. We're also traffic cops when elevators and escalators break and extra eyes for museum security. We enforce the rule against eating outside the two dining areas in the building. (Crumbs could invite pests into the museum, which could endanger artifacts both on display and in storage.)

"The Museum Ambassador program was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between two other existing volunteer corps here at the museum—our information desk specialists, who provide orientation assistance when guests arrive, and our volunteer docents, who provide Highlights tours, facilitate hands-on demonstrations, and circulate through many of our exhibitions to interact with visitors," said Director of Visitor Services Andrea Lowther.

Group photo of ambassadors in blue shirts in museum lobby

The program was a pilot that ran from March-May 2014, but "we were so pleased with the results that we've extended the pilot indefinitely," Lowther said.

Twenty of the original class of 29 ambassadors are still on duty and have collectively assisted 80,000 visitors (yes, we keep a count). A new class is starting soon and you can apply to be a Museum Ambassador if the opportunity sounds fun to you.

Ambassador speaks to visitor near museum Welcome Center

Some of the kids' questions are the best, and help us learn more about U.S. history. The young boy who noticed the question mark in the first stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner prompted me to consult the museum's website. A blog post explained that author Francis Scott Key—who wrote the song in 1814 during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore—may have been expressing his own anxiety about his young country.

Sometimes kids make us think on our feet. One day, a young girl asked ambassador Jim Kidney about Dorothy's ruby red slippers, wanting to know, "Do they still work?"

Museum ambassador by map near Conestoga Wagon

"Should I lie?" Kidney thought to himself. "What would her mom think of me and the Smithsonian, no matter what I said? I am supposed to be an 'ambassador' after all, and ambassadors are not in the business of ruining child fantasies. But the answer came to me, a native Washingtonian, almost immediately as I surveyed the possibilities. Pass the buck!"

Kidney told the young visitor, "Your Mom knows the answer to that question. You should ask her. Both mother and child departed seemingly satisfied with the answer."

Ruby slippers, bow on front, heel in back, sequins galore

Sometimes, visitors come for a specific item and are disappointed if it's not on display. We can let you know that President Lincoln's hatFonzie's jacket, and Kermit the Frog aren't currently on display and recommend other interesting objects to see, such as the Gunboat Philadelphia, a huge stretch of Route 66, and massive murals chronicling African American history. We often explain that the museum's west wing is currently closed as we prepare to open new exhibitions.

When artifacts are no longer on display, we explain that many objects can only be exposed to light for a short period of time and that rotation can help curators showcase more of the museum's collections over time. (For more on why most exhibitions are temporary and don't last forever, I recommend this helpful blog post.) Object rotation is especially noticeable in American Stories, where you can see Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs.

There are touching moments, too. A military wife shared her reflections with me after seeing the Star-Spangled Banner on display.

In many cases, we direct visitors to exhibitions that will mean something in their lives. I direct visitors from North Carolina to see a lunch counter from Greensboro where the student sit-in movement to protest segregation made headlines. When I see visitors wearing military emblems, I direct them to the stirring third floor exhibition The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. I directed two women of Vietnamese background to that exhibition because they wanted to see the Huey helicopter that played such an important role in the Vietnam War.

Huey Helicopter (nose portion facing camera) in exhibit with panels

Some visitors aren't sure which Smithsonian museum they are in. It's easy to point those searching for the Hope Diamond to the National Museum of Natural History and the Declaration of Independence to the National Archives. But when a little boy from Japan asked to see the "dragon," it took me a while to realize he'd find dinosaurs in a new exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History.

I received one request that would have been quite common in years past, but seemed a bit odd in today's cell phone world.

"Do you know," he asked, "where I can find a pay phone?" That one really stumped me. I sent him to our Welcome Center to see if they could help. If he had come back my way, I would have lent him my cell.

Larry Margasak is a retired Washington journalist who volunteers as an ambassador, a researcher for the museum's political history section, and a researcher/writer for the Steinway Diary Project, a program that researches the diary of piano manufacturer William Steinway and his role in American history.

Volunteer Museum Ambassador Larry Margasak


American History
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History
See more posts
Blog Feed
Published Date
Tue, 13 Jan 2015 00:22:33 +0000
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts

Why isn't my favorite artifact on display?

On rainy weekends, my mom would say, "Let's go visit Boomer." With big, wise eyes and a grumpy mouth, Boomer the Queensland Grouper was a key part of every visit to our local science museum. Because of our visits to Boomer's large aquarium, I know what it's like to love something in a museum and to make a tradition of visiting it. So I know how our visitors feel when they come to this museum and the thing that they love isn't on display.

As social media manager, I sometimes hear from visitors who are disappointed that the puffy shirt from Seinfeld, the script from The Wizard of Oz, or Fonzie's jacket aren't on display. Museums are places we visit to connect with our memories of the past, and we know how disappointing it can be when a favorite object isn't here to greet you. In the spirit of transparency, I want to share a few reasons why your favorite thing may not be on view as well as a few tips on how to get the most out of your visit.

Two shoes with bow-shaped decorations covered in red sequins

Most of museums' stuff is in storage 
Museums have much larger collections than they have space to display. Do you really want to see every single example of a single butterfly species from the National Museum of Natural History's collection? Probably not, unless you're a researcher. According to a BBC article, the Louvre shows eight percent of its collection. Space limitations and conservation concerns make it even more important for Smithsonian museums to digitize our collections so you can explore them online.

We display more objects online than we do in our building 
Our Information Desk volunteers and Museum Ambassadors often hear from visitors who come to the museum hoping to see an object they spotted on our website or Facebook page. Sharing our collections online is an important part of our mission and we'll continue to do our best to communicate what's on display and what’s not.

Change is good, even for a history museum
We love that families visit the museum again and again to re-connect with favorite exhibitions, but we can't stay static. To be a place where memories are made, we have to provide an excellent visitor experience. This means closing exhibitions to make way for new ones, revamping programming to meet evolving educational needs, and rotating content to represent the diverse stories of American history.

Young woman wearing blue gloves gets ready to remove a Girl Scout uniform from a display

Display is great for visitors, not so great for objects
When I got my first museum job, I was surprised to learn how damaging light can be. Textiles, documents, and most museum artifacts are irreversibly affected by light. We take measures to protect objects from light damage, carefully controlling the length and intensity of exposure. This means that many objects can only be displayed for a limited time in order to protect them from damage.

Rotating objects isn't easy
When a 1960s dress was too sensitive to stay on display for the length of a recent exhibition, curators and conservators collaborated to identify other dresses that could be displayed on rotation. This minimized light exposure and allowed visitors to see more of our collections. But there are only so many people on staff who have the specialized skills to manage rotations across our many exhibitions, and some one-of-a-kind objects don't have a back-up.

Photo of a dress with a pattern of Campbell's soup labels in white and red

Building a new exhibition for objects takes time 
Until Exhibition Development 101 in graduate school, I didn't realize exhibition building is as complicated as producing a Hollywood movie. Creating storylines, scripts, casting plans, and audiovisual content takes time. The gap between closing one exhibition and opening another can feel long. We recommend you check exhibition closing dates to make sure you don't miss out. And remember, our online exhibitions and object groups make objects available online, whether they're on display physically or not.

Objects that join our collection usually aren't displayed right away
We're constantly collecting. For example, our political history curators are on the campaign trail tracking down objects representative of the presidential race. Objects must be processed before they're eligible for display, so you may hear that we acquired something, but that typically doesn't mean we can put it on display right away.

3D model of a boat with orange spots where the user can click for more info

Displaying objects is only part of our job 
The Smithsonian's collections belong to the nation—you trust us to take good care of them, which includes preservation, research, and educational outreach. "The increase and diffusion of knowledge" is our mission and we carry it out in a variety of ways. Visiting us in Washington, D.C., is a great way to learn about history, but we also publish books and blog posts, showcase objects on the Smithsonian Channel, present online and on-site educational programs, lend objects to Smithsonian Affiliate museums, and develop resources for classrooms around the country.

Now that you're fluent how museums work behind the scenes, here are some tips for your next visit:

  • Subscribe to our newsletter (or swing by our website occasionally), for information on openings and closings.
  • Download our self-guides, especially if you're visiting with young people.
  • Get in touch on social media. I'll be happy to answer your questions!
  • Our History Explorer team can provide great advice on which exhibitions are best for students or teens.
  • Read our blog posts with tips on bringing kids to museums.
  • To cover a lot of ground, visit on a quiet day (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are a good bet) or outside of tourist season (fall and winter are great times to visit).
  • Get through security and into the museum quicker by traveling light and familiarizing yourself with our security policies.  
  • Check our calendar for programs to enhance your trip.
  • Once here, stop by our second floor Welcome Center, where knowledgeable volunteers will help you plan your visit or point you towards the next Highlights Tour. 
  • Look for our Museum Ambassodors in blue shirts. They're here to help you enjoy all the museum has to offer. 

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the museum's New Media Department.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 08:00
American History
National Museum of American History
National Museum of American History
See more posts
Blog Feed
Published Date
Wed, 30 Mar 2016 14:43:49 +0000
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts