The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is planning an important new exhibition, American Enterprise, which will open in the spring of 2015. Chronological in organization, the exhibition will use objects, graphics, and interactive experiences to examine how the United States moved from a small dependent nation to one of the world’s most vibrant and trend-setting economies. Visitors will learn that with few barriers to individual opportunity, a tradition of relentless innovation, an environment of fierce competition, and a widespread commitment to common good, the United States economy has expanded more quickly than other economies over a longer period of time.
The exhibition will illustrate how the changing balance between efficiency, equity, and control has provided opportunities for many, great benefits for some, and hardships for others. Visitors will understand that the business development of the nation with its corresponding social effects, are fundamental to understanding the lives of the American people, the history of the United States, and the nation’s role in global affairs. American Enterprise will convey the drama, breadth, and diversity of America’s business heritage.
The bulk of the exhibition will be told in four chronological periods spanning the story of America from the 1770s to today: the Merchant Era, the Corporate Era, the Consumer Era, and the Global Era. In addition to the chronological sections there will be three specialized areas: Marketing Moments, Biography Snapshots, and The Exchange. While comprehensive in scope, the exhibition will primarily focus on stories from five economic sectors: agriculture, finance, information and communication technology, manufacturing, and retail/service.
At its heart, American Enterprise argues the critical role of business in forming the American experience, tracing the relationship among producers, managers, workers, and consumers. It holds that the history of the United States is a tradition of change or, as economist Joseph Schumpeter would say, creative destruction. American Enterprise explains that to understand the United States is to see the ongoing dynamic interplay between core national values of individual opportunity and common good – capitalism and democracy – and the role of innovation and competition in molding the relationship.
With this website, the Museum hopes to expand the online presence of the American Enterprise exhibition and discover new ways to collaborate with the public. In the months ahead, the team working on the exhibition will share research and collecting stories, test exhibit ideas, and provide educational content before the physical exhibition opens. Website visitors will be able to engage with the exhibition team and help shape the project’s development.