National World War I Museum And Memorial Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary By Saying “Thank You”

National World War I Museum

The newly Congressional-designated National World War I Museum opened to critical acclaim in 2006. Ten years and more than 2 million visitors later, the National World War I Museum and Memorial is saying “thank you” to Kansas City area residents and supporters who made the Museum possible by offering free admission to the public and a host of free activities during Anniversary Week December 6-11.

“This is our opportunity to say ‘Thank you Kansas City’ for creating one of the world’s great museums,” said National World War I Museum and Memorial President and CEO Dr. Matthew Naylor. “Area residents raised the funds to build the Memorial and original Museum in 1919 and they once again rose to the challenge in the late 1990s to facilitate renovation and construction of this magnificent facility. To be certain, this is a Museum of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Between Tuesday, Dec. 6 – Sunday, Dec. 11 the Museum offers free admission to the general public and an array of free activities, including daily complimentary tours (2 p.m.) and daily editions of its family-friendly Hands-on History program (3:30 p.m. & 11 a.m. Saturday/Sunday). The Museum also offers the opportunity of a lifetime on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9-10 from 5-8 p.m. to ascend to the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower for breathtaking panoramic night time views of downtown Kansas City.  

Additionally, the Museum is hosting several noteworthy programs during the week. At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6, Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato joins panelists Alvin Brooks, Joanne Katz and Dr. Matthew Naylor in a discussion on her project “In War and Peace – Harmony Through Music” in a program presented in partnership with The Harriman-Jewell Series.

The following evening at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, the Museum commemorates the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor by welcoming Doolittle Raider/WWII veteran Lt. Col. Dick Cole and Dr. Dennis R. Okerstrom for a conversation about Cole’s military service, the impact of Pearl Harbor and the present day meaning of WWII. The program is presented in partnership with Park University, The National Archives at Kansas City, The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and The Truman Center at UMKC.

A complete list of activities can be found here.

 Anniversary Week activities are made possible by Premier Sponsors AMC Theatres and VML and Partner Sponsors Henderson Engineers, Inc., JE Dunn Construction and State Street Corporation. 

Called a “national treasure” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg, the newly built Museum opened to the public on Dec. 2, 2006 and features the world’s most comprehensive collection of Great War objects and documents. The Museum now possesses more than 300,000 items in its collection with less than 10 percent on exhibition at any time. 

Designed by one of the foremost museum designers in the world in Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the Museum was specifically designed to provide an unparalleled educational and entertainment experience for guests, students and scholars.

Since 2006, the Museum has curated/hosted more than 40 special exhibitions from across the world with more than two million people visiting, including more than 100,000 students. Visitors include President Barack Obama (as a presidential candidate in 2008), former Vice President Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell, Senator John McCain, actor and singer Kevin Costner, ambassadors and dignitaries from across the world and more. Additionally, Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving WWI veteran, visited the Museum over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. 

No stranger to continued national/international attention, the Museum was ranked as the No. 5 museum in the country by Yelp in 2015, one of the top 25 museums in the U.S. by TripAdvisor in the last three years (2014-16) and one of the “10 best military museums” by USA Today.

National World War I Museum and Memorial
National World War I Museum and Memorial

A Brief History of the National World War I Museum and Memorial

The origin of the Museum is an early 20th-century example of crowd sourcing. Soon after World War I ended, Kansas City leaders joined in efforts to create a lasting monument to the men and women who had served in the war. In 1919, more than $2.5 million was raised in just 10 days. The equivalent of approximately $34 million today, this staggering accomplishment reflected the passion of public sentiment for the Great War that had dramatically changed the world.

In 1921, more than 100,000 people gathered to see the supreme Allied commanders dedicate the site of the Liberty Memorial. This was the first time in history these five leaders were together in one place. Following a national architecture competition, construction began in 1924.

In 1926, the completed Museum and Memorial, one of the largest war memorials in the world featuring a 217-foot tall Tower, was dedicated in front of a crowd by 150,000 people by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge – the largest crowd a U.S. president had addressed to that time.

In 1998, area residents once again responded to a call to duty and raised more than $102 million for renovations and an expansion of the Museum, including support from the City of Kansas City, the State of Missouri, the United States Government and generous individual donors.

In 2004, the Museum was designated by Congress as the nation’s official World War I Museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art museum and the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the Liberty Memorial. 

The Liberty Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark on Sept. 20, 2006, recognizing the monument as a nationally significant historic property. It is a distinction given to less than 40 historic properties in Missouri and slightly more than 2,500 in the United States.

In 2014, the Museum and Memorial received a second designation from Congress, effectively recognizing the Museum and Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

A complete list of the Anniversary Week Activities is available here.