FDR thermometer. Courtesy National Museum of American History.


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

The American presidency: to Thomas Jefferson, it was a “splendid misery”; to Theodore Roosevelt, a “bully pulpit;” to Warren G. Harding, “a hell of a job.” Some presidents have stumbled; others excelled. The work and decisions of only a few reverberated long after their administrations ended, but all were challenged and changed. As Lyndon Johnson put it, “The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.”

Those who have held the office of president helped shape the United States and influenced international events. Their collective history is greater than the individual stories of the men themselves.

The permanent exhibition of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) is one of the largest and most comprehensive examinations of the office of the nation’s chief executive ever attempted within a museum setting. In association with NMAH, SITES created a traveling version of The American Presidency. Like the permanent installation, the traveling exhibition explores the office, the men who occupied it, and their dynamic relationships with the public. Perpetually changing, whether responding to times of prosperity, crisis, or loss, the relationship between the American people and the office of the president is a fascinating one.

The American Presidency features a dispatch case used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, a microphone used by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his “fireside chats,” and a formal gown worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Video stations examine life in the White House, the various roles of the president, the assassination and mourning of fallen chief executives, the presidency in the popular imagination, and life after the presidency. Photographs and graphics trace the history of the presidency from the creation of the office to the present day. The American Presidency offers captivating new perspectives on the job that is arguably the most powerful in the world.

A 208-page, full-color companion book based on the permanent exhibition (Smithsonian Books, 2000) is available to accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition’s national tour has been made possible by the United States Congress, Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer, Kenneth E. Behring, the Smithsonian National Board, and The History Channel.

Contents 350 objects, 5 audiovisual stations, 2 mechanical interactives, wall cases, architectural structure, graphic panels, text panels, labels

Companion book, brochure, curriculum material, family guide, PR materials

Running Meters

1,525 sq. m (5,000 sq. ft.)

Crates 116

21,090 kg (46,400 lb.)

Category History & Culture
Security High

Included in fee, SITES-designated carrier

SITES Contacts

Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)

Toured Through 2006


Dates   Host Institution Status
2/16/02 9/2/02 Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, IL Booked
10/5/02 5/11/03 Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO Booked
6/7/03 9/7/03 Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, WA Booked
10/4/03 1/4/04 Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, MI Booked
1/31/04 5/2/04 Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, PA Booked
5/29/04 9/5/04 Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin, TX Booked
10/2/04 5/15/05 Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN Booked
6/11/05 1/8/06 Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, MO Booked
4/27/06 9/17/06 Oregon Historical Society, Portland, OR Booked



American Presidency: A Glorious Burden by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Smithsonian Insitution Press, 2000; hard back; $50.00

This lavishly illustrated volume recounts the evolution of the presidency, from the age of George Washington until today. Drawing from the vast collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, it provides a revealing glimpse of the culture, particularly the material culture, of the presidency. Using objects as varied as Thomas Jefferson's portable desk, Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat, a 1903 Teddy Bear named for Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt's pince-nez, and a drum played during John F. Kennedy's funeral, the book explores how the presidency has changed, and how presidential administrations have shaped - and been shaped by - relationships with the American people.


Press Releases and Features


Smithsonian Announces Traveling Version of “The American Presidency” Exhibition Premieres at Chicago Historical Society

The traveling version of "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden" will debut this winter and travel to nine U.S. cities over the next three years. The exhibition, comprised of various objects related to the presidency, is a full-scale traveling version of the permanently installed exhibition of the same title at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center. The exhibit, which opened in December 2000, has been seen by nearly 1 million visitors, including President Bill Clinton. "The American Presidency" will open at the Chicago Historical Society on Feb. 16, and remain on view there through Sept. 2. Other venues on the tour will include the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo. and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

The traveling exhibit was created by the Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The national tour has been made possible by the United States Congress, Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer, Kenneth E. Behring, the Smithsonian National Board, and The History Channel.

  • Among the exhibition's highlights are
  • a surveyor's compass used by George Washington at Mount Vernon
  • the brass inkwell used by Abraham Lincoln while writing the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation
  • top hat and overcoat worn by Grover Cleveland at his First Inauguration on March 4, 1885
  • a pair of silk pajamas worn by Warren G. Harding
  • a CBS microphone used by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his "fireside chats"
  • a life preserver from John F. Kennedy's yacht, the Honey Fitz
  • the gavel used during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial

In describing the exhibit, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small said, "We expect our president to be a diplomat, general, economist, inspirational leader, and a dozen things more. There's not a tougher job in the world, and this timely traveling exhibition tells the inside story of that job. It's an excellent example of the Smithsonian's effort to reach out to all Americans with fascinating artifacts backed by authoritative scholarship."

To tell the story of the American presidency, the Smithsonian will feature five audio-visual presentations and two interactive experiences. The key storytellers, however, are the more than 350 artifacts on view in "The American Presidency," most drawn from the museum's holdings of more than 3 million objects, by far the largest collection of its kind in the nation.

While in Chicago, the exhibition will expand with the addition of more than three dozen items from the Chicago Historical Society, including a life mask of George Washington, the Abraham Lincoln deathbed, an "Impeach Nixon!" lapel pin, and a 1984 Mondale/Reagan voting machine.

An illustrated 208-page companion book, titled The American Presidency, features more than 300 color photographs and 50 duotones. Published by Smithsonian Institution Press, the book retails for $50 hardcover and $24.95 in softcover.

The Smithsonian Institution is pleased to announce that Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer of Holliswood, New York are the major sponsors of "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden" national exhibition tour. Mr. and Mrs. Sommer have been extremely generous supporters of the Smithsonian, most recently with a gift of a rare 1967 Pontiac convertible to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's Transportation Hall. That car is now one of the highlights of the Smithsonian's automotive collection. Mr. and Mrs. Sommer's generous gift will enable "The American Presidency" exhibition to travel to nine venues over the course of the next three years.

Each year, SITES shares the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside of Washington, D.C. One of the Smithsonian's four National Programs, SITES makes available a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown not only in museums but wherever people live, work and play, including libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools and shopping malls. In 2002, SITES celebrates 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage.

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