Smithsonian to Document, Preserve History of American Brewing

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The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has announced it’s tackling one of America’s most appreciated and longest existing staples: beer.

The American-focused leg of the world’s largest museum and research complex announced its plans to collect, document and preserve the influential component of the American experience during the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America in Philadelphia today. The three-year initiative, which is part of the Smithsonian Food History project, will explore how the beverage and its production process connect to larger themes from the American cultural landscape. Some of those themes include advertising, agriculture, industry, innovation, business and community life.

“Brewing has a long and deep connection to our country’s history, and the museum’s collections explore the history of beer from the late 19th to early 20th centuries,” said John Gray, the director of the museum, in a recent statement. “The support of the Brewers Association allows our staff to collect the more recent history, including the impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide.”

The project will focus on the documentation and collection of the stories and history of modern American brewing, including the impact of craft brewers and beer production within the last 30 years as it has become more connected to social, cultural, economic and environmental movements across the United States.

Documentation of American cuisine and beverage at the National Museum of American History has spanned more than two decades, but the museum’s staff and researchers will now turn to the Brewers Association, American brewers and beer historians to assist them in their latest endeavor. The effort is being funded through the Brewers Association of Boulder, Colo., a not-for-profit trade association focused on small and independent American brewers.

The initiative is expected to vastly expand the museum’s current American brewing and beer consumption collections. Most of what the Museum of American History already features focuses in on material and artifacts from the 1870-1960s. More specifically, the collection of former Brewmaster Walter Voigt of Ruxton, Md., which features brewing instruments and tools, advertising materials, beer bottles, trays and taps, technical papers, prints and photographs from major cities across the country.