Philadelphia, the birthplace of America, is now home to the first ever museum dedicated solely to the events and circumstances of the American Revolutionary War. This brings Philadelphia's museum and historic house count to well over 100! Set in Old City, the Museum of the American Revolution opens April 19, on the 242nd anniversary of the shot heard round the world which launched our country on its path to freedom. The setting couldn't be more perfect, sitting right in the heart of America's most historic square mile, with easy access to other remnants of our founding days. This is a true history lovers paradise, and the Museum of the American Revolution fits right in, offering a fresh and in-depth take on a war that literally made it possible for us to be here, as we are, today. We were very excited to get an early peek inside.
Located at Third and Chestnut Streets, the Museum of the American Revolution encompasses 118,000 total square feet, including permanent and temporary exhibit galleries, theaters, education spaces, a café, a shop, and—soon—a space for students and younger visitors to explore history on their scale. It presents an immersive experience, using sight, touch, sound, and even smell to help tell the story of the people, ideas, and conflicts that shaped the events leading up to and, ultimately, ending in war. Peppered with original artifacts, theater experiences, interactive displays, and recreated events, the museum takes visitors on a chronological journey beginning in the 1760s—and sets out to answer four key questions throughout the exhibition:
1. How did people become revolutionaries?
2. How did the Revolution survive its darkest hours?
3. How revolutionary was the war?
4. What kind of nation did the revolutionaries create?
The cavalry steps off the pages of history. Photo courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution
One thing I noticed right away and throughout the entire experience is that this is not just the story of the Founding Fathers, but a truly inclusive look at the many different lives shaping and impacted by the war, with accounts from women, slaves, free African Americans, and Native Americans.
As a parent, I love all museums that encourage visitors to touch and explore, and the Museum of the American Revolution offers many of these opportunities. On the ground floor, young visitors can interact with costumes and crafts of the period. There is an opportunity to design a soldier uniform, sit in the "Rising Sun" chair, hop aboard a replica ship, and try your hand at cross-stitching.
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The replica privateer ship is ready for boarding. Photo courtesy of Bluecadet
Tech lovers can enjoy some digital storytelling, with perfectly designed touch interfaces that dig deep into the stories presented throughout the museum. Maps, timelines, and even the individual stories of people impacted by the Revolution come to life through interactive exhibits.
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A visitor interacts with the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Bluecadet
Occasionally, the texture of the exhibit floor changes to create different settings, transporting guests in time to key sights and places, including a gallery featuring a full-scale replica of Boston’s Liberty Tree. This nearly two-story tree is 18 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds, representing the site where the first stirrings of revolt were discussed and debated. The Battlefield Theater recreates the front lines of war, coupled with fog and lights, and a great recreation of Independence Hall shows its short-lived history as a prison for American soldiers during the British occupation in Philadelphia.
One of my favorite galleries was the Oneida Indian Nation Gallery, where I got to hear some of the conversation of the leaders of the Oneida Nation, who were allies to the budding revolutionaries. Through this exhibit I learned how and why the Oneidas fought in support of the colonist—a slice of history that never made it into my textbooks. The Oneida Nation has fought alongside American soldiers in every conflict since.
The imposing Liberty Tree. Photo courtesy of Bluecadet
How will the kids like it?
As a parent of a toddler, I have to admit I was glad I visited the museum alone. The exhibits have a lot of information to impart, and there are some sections that would be difficult to navigate with a young, boisterous child. That said, for a slightly older child I think the museum would be amazing. Many of the child-centered areas are geared for school-aged children, specifically 8 and up. I think that for families with children in this range, the museum is one of the best hands-on historic spaces I have encountered. It goes far beyond what kids are taught in school, and really makes us ask questions about fundamental ideas like freedom and equality. In the fall, the museum expects to have a recreation space for kids that will transport them back in time 250 years to a Philadelphia on the verge of war. In the meantime, there are many opportunities in the galleries to touch and explore in a way that can truly bring history to life.
Daily, 10am– 5pm
Extended summer hours from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9:30am– 6pm
The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Top photo courtesy of Museum of American Revolution