Small artifacts, big impact at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Special thanks to Monica Reardon, Smithsonian Affiliations summer intern, for authoring the 2013 Smithsonian #MuseumDayLive! blog series.

An Affiliate since 2001, the National Museum of American Jewish History was established in 1976 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The museum explores and interprets the American Jewish experience through exhibitions and public programs.  It tells the stories of Jews who migrated to America from around the world, eventually becoming today’s Jewish Americans.

Albert Einstein's Pipe. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

Albert Einstein’s Pipe. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

During Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! this year, visitors can explore artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, such as Albert Einstein’s pipe and a vial of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.  The artifacts have been on view since November 2010; both installed in the museum’s Only in America® Gallery/Hall of Fame.

Only in America® is an innovative combination of multimedia, original artifacts and interactive experiences.  It illustrates the choices, challenges and opportunities of eighteen Jewish Americans, which include Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.  Ivy Weingram, associate curator, points out

“visitors to Only in America® have the opportunity to explore both the personal and professional sides of our honorees.  Some are represented through the iconic objects of their careers–Salk’s vaccine, Spielberg’s camera, Berlin’s piano–and others, like Einstein’s pipe, lend a personal touch to an otherwise monumental figure.”

Polio Vaccine Vial. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

Polio Vaccine Vial. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

Her favorite artifact of the exhibition would have to be the vial of polio vaccine.  “It is one of the smallest artifacts in the exhibition, but its impact is undoubtedly among the greatest. I always think about that as I pass it in the gallery–how tiny and easily overlooked it is, but where would the world be without it?”

Weingram would love for visitors to be able to make connections between their own lives and the achievements and contributions of the 18 individuals.  “The laws of our land, the songwriting that has influenced generations of American music, over a century of innovations in American Judaism, game-changing sports heroes, scientific discovery–all are represented in Only in America®. Where do you feel their impact? How have they affected the way you live your life every day? How do you perpetuate their legacy?”

Is the Smithsonian in your neighborhood? Find out which other Affiliates are participating in #MuseumDayLive on September 28, 2013, here.