Smithsonian Plows Into Farming History

  • At the National Ag Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kan., kids can learn how to milk Holsteins in this room dedicated to dairy farming. Photo: Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

  • Only a few National Museum of American History visitors cast a glance at a John Deere wooden-and-steel plow dating back to 1838 -- even though it’s right at the museum's front door. Photo: Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

May 22, 2013
By Abbie Fentress Swanson

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. only get small glimpses of farming, such as a mural display of immigrant farmworkers planting crops in a 19th century California town. The museum once had an Agriculture Hall, but it was removed in 2006.

“It was a little tatty, a little worn out. The interpretation wasn’t the greatest. And for the nation’s museum, we really ought to do better,” says curator Peter Liebhold, who is chair of the museum’s Division of Work and Industry. “A group of farmers from Illinois came to us and they pointed out the fact that there was no Ag Hall and they thought that mistake should be rectified.”

The Smithsonian agreed and is now working on an 8,000-square-foot “American Enterprise” exhibition that will explore agriculture’s connection to finance, science and retail. Liebhold hopes the permanent exhibition, which will be devoted to the history of commerce and will open in 2015, will bring some much-needed love to farming, especially since less than 2 percent of Americans farm today.

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