A Revolutionary Museum Challenge

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2012

For more than a century, a priceless collection of relics of the American Revolution has been slowly gathering, waiting for an appropriate home. Included are the tent George Washington slept in during his war campaigning (carefully preserved by generations of admirers), manuscripts, works of art, weapons, and historical objects. Inexplicably, our founding revolution—a central element of U.S. history and culture—had never been fully explored in U.S. museums. Finally, in 2012, a private donor campaign was kicked off to remedy that by erecting a Museum of the American Revolution.

Catalyzing this new institution was a crucial $60 million of giving from Philadelphia-area media mogul Gerry Lenfest. His donation was paired with about that much more money from other private contributors. Capping the creation was an inventive land deal engineered by Lenfest. He acquired 78 acres adjoining Valley Forge Park, then swapped them for a perfect museum site in the historic section of Philadelphia, just steps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Together, these private efforts allowed the long-wished-for museum to become a reality.

The Museum of the American Revolution opened in 2017 in a $150 million building designed by architect Robert Stern, replacing the National Park Service’s failed Independence Park Visitor’s Center. Thousands of rare objects are displayed in 28,000 square feet of exhibit space. The tale of America’s birth is fleshed out with films, still images, and some inventive interpretive information that brings to life the fiery invention of our nation. Donors are now contributing to a $25 million operating endowment.