Our Visitors

More than 4.5 million people visit the National Museum of American History each year. Some times of the year are busier than others, as seen in these views of the Museum’s first floor.

Visitors to the National Museum of American History during a low visitation day
Visitors to the National Museum of American History during a low visitation day

Most of the variation in visitation is seasonal. This chart shows weekly visit counts for 2009—starting with the first week of January at the top of the chart.

Seasonal Visitation

Weekly visit counts to the National Museum of American History for CY2009

Different seasons also bring different types of visitors to the Museum. Spring brings teens, mostly middle school students on pilgrimages to Washington, D.C.—we think as many as 750,000 a year. Summer brings out-of-town families; they comprise 44% of our visitors in summer. Fall and winter, our slow seasons, bring more local visitors and a slight uptick in groups without children.

Regardless of the season, large numbers of young people under 18 visit with their families; not counting those who come with school groups, this age group makes up one third of our visitors, as follows:

13 to 17 12%
9 to 12 10%
6 to 8 6%
5 and under 5%

Here’s the breakdown of all the generations …

Pre-Baby Boom 6%
Boomers (1946-64) 41%
Gen X (1965-81) 36%
Gen Y (1982-95) 17%

Regardless of their age, most visitors come here as part of a social group—whether with families or other adults; only 14% of our visitors come by themselves. In fact, a museum visit is largely a social activity.

With child(ren) 43%
With other adult(s) 38%
Lone adult 14%
Tour group 4%

Our visitors come from across the country; a small percentage from around the world.

Metro DC 12%
New England 8%
Mid-Atlantic 15%
South 29%
Midwest 14%
West 12%
US (unspecified) 2%
Foreign countries 8%

Most of our visitors are white, but the number of African American, Latino, and Asian Americans visitors has grown in recent years.

White 86%
African American 8%
Latino/Hispanic 7%
Asian 6%

More than half of our visitors are making their first trip to American History—but very few people who visit, even return visitors, are making a day of it! We are only one of many stops on the tourist circuit. People spend an average of 116 minutes in the Museum, including the time they spend in the bathroom, cafeteria, and stores.

We know from talking with visitors, that they tend to fall into three types…

  • Object people, who are here to see stuff
  • People people, who are interested in stories & emotion; and
  • Idea people, who want to engage with concepts

Visitors also have a variety of learning styles: not everyone learns by reading, for example. And even those who do, can only read so much when they are standing on their feet!

Visitors to America on the Move

For all their differences, most visitors have a few important things in common.

  • They want to be able to relate their experience in the museum to their lives outside the museum.
  • They want to be able to tailor their experiences to suit their interests and knowledge levels.
  • They want emotion-based experiences that take them into the content by transporting them to another time or place.
  • They want to see or experience action or movement or engage in an activity.
  • And more and more frequently, they do not see themselves as empty vessels waiting to be filled, but are expecting to be able to tell us what they know or what they think in a two-way exchange with us.

In planning American Enterprise, we have endeavored to take all of this into consideration.

Howard Morrison, Director of Education and Interpretation, National Museum of American History