Michigan History in Washington DC

I spent the last week in Washington DC for a work event. Although I had to spend a lot of time working, I still managed to see a good portion of the city and its many museums (and finished off my Year of Museums – more on that later!). I tried to keep an eye out for Michigan history represented in our nation’s capitol, and I ended up with a few examples:

1) Upper Peninsula copper at the National Museum of Natural History

If you go through the NMNH’s Hall of Geology, Rocks, and Minerals, you will learn all about how rocks and minerals are formed, how they are categorized, and where they are found. The displays on copper include this large piece of solid copper found in a mine in Ontonagan, near the Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula.  It’s great to see the resources of the UP get some acknowledgement. I also learned, in researching this blog post, that the museum has the semi-famous Ontonagon Boulder (3000 pound piece of float copper), but it is not on display. Too bad, I would love to see it!

Michigan Copper

Michigan Copper


2) Auto Industry

Of course, there are many items from Michigan’s most well-known industry around the city – especially from Ford! The National Postal Museum shows off a 1931 Ford Model A Mail Truck, one of the first custom built automobile bodies for the postal service. And when you walk in the front doors at the National Museum of American History, you come face to face with a beautiful light blue 1965 Ford Mustang, an example of the car’s first year of production. Less noticeable is a small painting of the Ford River Rouge plant, tucked away in the National Gallery of Art. Titled “Classic Landscape,” the 1931 painting by Charles Sheeler  is one of five he created on the same subject.  I recognized the factory instantly when I spotted the painting. It really stood out among the more traditional topics of portraits, landscapes and water lilies.

1931 Ford Model A Mail Car, Sheeler's Classic Landscape, 1965 Ford Mustang

1931 Ford Model A Mail Truck, Sheeler’s Classic Landscape, 1965 Ford Mustang


3) Lewis Cass and Gerald R. Ford at the U.S. Capitol

I didn’t actually make it to the capitol building on this trip, but I know that throughout the building are two statues from each state. Michigan is represented by Lewis Cass and Gerald Ford. Ford is actually a recent replacement for Zachariah Chandler, whose statue was removed to Lansing in 2011. I can understand why they wanted to include our only president, but I do wish they had replaced Cass instead. Chandler, who served as Mayor of Detroit, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior, worked tirelessly to end slavery and promote civil rights for freedmen after the Civil War, as well as cleaned up corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cass held similar positions, although about 50 years earlier – Governor of Michigan Territory, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of War. Yet his opinions on the rights of minorities were vastly different: he promoted popular sovereignty in regards to slavery in the territories and was instrumental in creating and implementing the Indian removal policy. Less Cass, more Chandler, I say!

Left to right: Lewis Cass, Gerald Ford, Zachariah Chandler (Photos from the Architect of the Capitol website)

Left to right: Lewis Cass, Gerald Ford, Zachariah Chandler
(Photos from the Architect of the Capitol website)


4) News headlines at the Newseum

The Newseum is a high tech museum of news just off the National Mall. Its News History Gallery, the largest of its many exhibits, features newspapers and other methods of conveying the news from the past 500 years. I took a look at the historic front pages it has on display, and found at least one relating to Michigan – this copy of the Detroit News from the Detroit Riots in 1967. A sad event, but one that is an important part of the both the city’s and the nation’s history.

The Detroit News

The Detroit News

I’m sure I missed plenty of other examples of Michigan history in DC. If you know of any, let me know in the comments – I’ll be sure to add them to my next visit!


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