WASHINGTON, July 15, 2015 - The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently opened its “American Enterprise” exhibit, an 8,000-square-foot gallery that tells the history of the nation’s business, including agriculture. The exhibit features more than 600 “objects, images, hands-on activities and video” that John Gray, the museum’s director, said helps to show the growth of America’s economy into a global powerhouse.

“Our goal is to make history essential by presenting the compelling ideas and ideals of America and animating them through transformative experiences,” Gray said. “American Enterprise chronicles the tumultuous interaction between capitalism and the common good, which is fundamental to understanding our history and our global role.”  

The exhibit offers a chronological look at the progress of all sectors of American business through the Merchant (1770s-1850s), Corporate (1860s-1930s), Consumer (1940s-1970s) and Global (1980s-2010s) eras. Nancy Kavazanjian, a United Soybean Board director, said that rather than segmenting each industry’s change through the years, the exhibit demonstrates how agriculture has been intertwined with the history of American business.

“Agricultural innovation is part of America, and we are part of American enterprise and what has happened and what has progressed in America. So it’s very fitting that agriculture is part of all (time periods),” Kavazanjian said. The United Soybean Board is a sponsor of the exhibit.

“American Enterprise features many agricultural artifacts including a cotton gin belonging to Eli Whitney, the inventor of the device, a Fordson tractor, and Stanley Cohen’s notebook on recombinant DNA research, which led to better understanding of the genetic structure of plants. A group of jackets belonging to former members of the National FFA Organization will also be on rotation, with a ceremonial jacket given to former President Jimmy Carter currently on display.

Perhaps the agricultural crown jewel of the exhibit is the “Farming Challenge,” which gives visitors the chance to make management and marketing decisions such as whether to go conventional or organic, or to hand-milk cows or use robots. They can also sit in a simulated tractor and watch a yield monitor display data while listening to current events on the tractor’s radio. The challenge is designed to show the wide variety of information farmers must process these days and the potential for unintended consequences from seemingly small decisions.

Kavazanjian said she hopes visitors leave with a better understanding of the agricultural industry and how it has changed and advanced along with the rest of America’s businesses.

“I hope that people understand and take away from this the fact that we have progressed,” she said. “As technology has progressed, American agriculture has progressed, so we’re not planting seed by hand anymore. We’re using high-tech equipment, we’re using GPS technology, we’re using the computers, and we have progressed right along with America.”

Smithsonian visitors will also have a chance to view the Corn Farmers Coalition advertising campaign. One of the coalition ads will be displayed in the Mars Hall of American Business alongside such pieces of advertising iconography as the Marlboro Man, images from the Morton's Salt "When It Rains It Pours" campaign, and the first Breck Shampoo ad to feature an African-American "Breck girl.” Smithsonian curator Peter Liebhold said the ad was a natural choice for the 8,000-square-foot exhibit, a comprehensive look at American History as seen through business.

 "This corn growers' campaign is visually really striking and tells a great story," Liebhold said. "It's really a representation of modern advertising."


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