Technology museums in Washington DC
November 2, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Washington DC museums - What are some good museums in DC for the history of technology, transport, computers, etc. - I do know about the Smithsonian and their Air and Space Museum. Thanks!
posted by carter to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: ah, but do you know about the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum? It's got all the stuff too big to fit into the Air & Space down on the mall.
posted by easily confused at 2:11 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also recommend the Udvar-Hazy. It is massive so give yourself plenty of time. The have some cool old computers in the room with the space shuttle. Unfortunately it's located way out by Dulles Airport.

Also, you might enjoy the Spy Museum downtown.
posted by exogenous at 2:24 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: The Smithsonian is actually 19 different museums, not just one. The Air and Space Museum is part of the Smithsonian.

For the history of technology, etc. your best bet is the American History Museum (another Smithsonian museum). I haven't been there since they did the big renovation, so I'm not sure exactly how things are laid out now, but there used to be a really neat history of computing exhibit that included an enigma machine, an old telephone relay, and lots of computers of different ages. The exact exhibit may no longer be there, but I'm sure all the stuff is still in the collection. According to their website, there's an exhibit on COBOL right now, so I think that's a pretty good bet for technology-focused exhibits.
posted by duien at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2011

In addition to the already-mentioned Udvar-Hazy and Spy Museums, you could visit the NSA's own Cryptologic Museum out near their HQ in Ft Meade, MD. While you're out in that area, you may want to hit up the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as well. And if you're willing to venture further out to downtown Baltimore, you could visit the Maryland Science Center.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2011

Best answer: Seconding the National Museum of American History. Until 1980, it was called the National Museum of History and Technology, so I bet you would like it. They have a computer history collection.

The National Building Museum is great also.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:51 PM on November 2, 2011

The National Postal Museum (also part of the Smithsonian) has exhibits on mail transport, modernization, etc.
posted by candyland at 3:01 PM on November 2, 2011

The Newseum has some good stuff about communications technology, especially TV.
posted by SMPA at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2011

2nd Goddard.

There is also the College Park Aviation Museum, which is right across the street from the College Park metro stop. The College Park Airfield located there was the sight of the first Army Aviation school. It's a fairly small museum, but they have a decent collection of pre-World War II planes and they allow visitors into their restoration center.
posted by chrisulonic at 3:24 PM on November 2, 2011

2nding the Building Museum.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:53 PM on November 2, 2011

all good ideas above!

Also, the Brewmaster's Castle. If you get the right tour guide you'll learn about the technology of Victorian houses, like early electric lights and stuff. It's pretty interesting.
posted by min at 4:55 PM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: Woah, thanks everyone. This is great! I had never heard of the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum, and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately it looks like my logistics will work against that. The National Museum of American History looks like a close second - glad to see that it used to be the Natl Museum of History and Technology - there's bound to be something there.
posted by carter at 5:56 PM on November 2, 2011

I can put in a very fond word for the little-known Museum of the United States Navy, easily accessible from Barracks' Row and the Navy Yard metro stop. The technology pretty much stops at the Cold War (different building, not open) but you can play with bombs, landmines, a submarine, and part of the bridge of an aircraft carrier. Also, the Trieste, and outstanding piece of technology. Not as focused as College Park (also fun!) or Air and Space, but a great space.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:02 PM on November 2, 2011

+1 Museum of the US Navy. My father took me as a kid, and I remember it being the most interactive museum I'd been to -- they had not one but two medium-caliber AA guns that you could climb all over and even elevate/rotate. I'm pretty sure there's a photo of me inside the Trieste pressure vessel too (the empty one that's on the ground, of course, not the one mounted to the bathysphere).

Honestly, I'd skip the spy museum. I didn't feel like it was worth the cost of entry when I went.
posted by Alterscape at 9:33 PM on November 2, 2011

Err, I need more sleep. "There exists a photo of me climbing around inside the thing" not "a photo of me is part of the exhibit." Point is, there's a huge pressure vessel that's a backup for the one that's actually attached to the submersible, and at least in the early 90s, you were allowed to climb into it.
posted by Alterscape at 9:34 PM on November 2, 2011

I swear there used to be shuttles between the Mall and the Udvar-Hazy; can't find anything now though, sorry. If you'll be at Dulles Airport, there definately ARE shuttles running back and forth between there & Hazy.
posted by easily confused at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Yes - I think there is the 5A Metrobus that runs to Dulles. But I'm arriving at 1:00 p.m., have to get to the hotel, drop stuff off, go find the Metrobus, find the shuttle at Dulles and get to the museum before it closes at 5:30 ... Maybe another time.
posted by carter at 6:42 AM on November 3, 2011

The National Building Museum!

Though a little less on-the-mall, and a little more downtown. But the building alone is gorgeous. And I'm not sure if it's still there, but towards the end of summer they had a world's fair exhibit with all the old "Technology of the FUUUUTURE!" like an "AI" robot that smoked cigarettes and "spoke" from an internal record player.
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 7:56 AM on November 3, 2011

Best answer: Since a couple of Baltimore examples already came up, I'll add three museums. I highly recommend the B&O Railroad Museum, the birthplace of American railroading. The Baltimore Museum of Industry looks really interesting, but I haven't gotten there yet. If you're really a transportation nut, you might also find the very small Baltimore Streetcar Museum interesting.

Back in DC, the National Museum of the American Indian (warning: autoplaying audio of horses with bells on walking through a crowd) had some interesting exhibits about native tech and transportation. It is also part of the Smithsonian. If you do go there, make sure to start on the top floor, as that is the order the museum is designed to be seen in. The cafeteria is pretty good too.
posted by postel's law at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2011

One more just occurred to me. The NSA's National Cryptological Museum is a short drive up 295, much closer than Baltimore.

(I suspect that you really want answers in central DC, but that isn't really clear from the question. How long are you in town, do you have access to a car, etc. Do you really only have the afternoon of your arrival?)
posted by postel's law at 9:05 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: I basically just have the afternoon of my arrival in DC. No car. Staying central for a couple of days but will be in meetings. But I do go to DC from time to time and can try and schedule future trips for more down time. Also, as I am in currently in Philly, so a day trip to Baltimore is also not out of the question.
posted by carter at 9:35 AM on November 3, 2011

Best answer: If Baltimore is an option, the National Electronics Museum focuses a lot on the history of electonics. They are located just outside of BWI airport.
posted by nalyd at 9:46 AM on November 3, 2011

Depending on when you're going to be here, there are a number of exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that you might find interesting. Right now we have up The Great American Hall of Wonders which explores 19th century America's exploration of innovation. Then, in a few weeks we're opening Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection. And, in March, we're showing The Art of Video Games. All of these explore technology in one way or another.

The American Art Museum is located near Chinatown, about a mile north of the Mall. It is right across from the Spy Museum. Nearest Metro: Gallery Place.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:01 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Field trip report: Currently sitting in the cafe of the National American Museum, using their free wifi, and checking out the visitor's guide; off to see the exhibits soon! And there is Air & Space if I have any time left ...
posted by carter at 11:12 AM on November 3, 2011

I was disappointed by the exhibits at the National Building Museum, but the building tour was pretty cool. Their museum shop, however, is amazing. All sorts of cool designy stuff. I do a large chunk of my holiday shopping there every year.
posted by QIbHom at 11:14 AM on November 3, 2011

postel's law, the Baltimore Museum of Industry is very, very cool, but a bit difficult to get to without a car. They have working old machines and run them sometimes. Great exhibits on canning, paint, Noxema, meat packing, bakeries, an amazing print shop, pharmacy, lightbulbs, umbrella making and more. Plus a steam tug! Lots of local history but plenty of stuff for those who aren't particularly interested in Baltimore.
posted by QIbHom at 11:18 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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