In 1925 when the museum first appealed to the public for donations to form a collection, people gave dolls, quilts, toys, tools, chairs—a wide assortment of objects. Eventually, though, the museum became more selective about what it accepted and more focused about it what it wanted—which were items that, in the broadest sense, provided insights into American history and culture.
The Collection Today
Today there are more than 55,000 items in its American collection, ranging from the late 18th century to the present. Over 200 years of the American experience are illustrated by both handmade and manufactured objects that reflect the shared experiences and the diverse aspects of American life. Objects representing family life, popular trends, and historical events document not only how things have changed, but also how some have remained the same. The collection can be divided into three main areas: the Toy and Doll Collection, the Textiles and Clothing Collection, and the American Materials Collection.
Toy and Doll Collection
There are over 14,000 objects in this collection, including: a good pre-World War II toy train collection; a nice assortment of Barbie® dolls, including a brunette #1; a group of dolls made by people employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the 1930s; a large collection of Steiff animals; and a significant collection of dinosaur toys and collectibles.
Textiles and Clothing Collection
Containing more than 5,000 pieces, this collection’s highlights includes clothing by innovative early-20th century Italian designer Mariano Fortuny; a cape worn by Christopher Reeve in the films Superman I and Superman II, as well as a stunt cape used in the 1960s Batman television series; clothing by several significant 20th-century designers including Chanel, Halston, Bill Blass, and Jacques Fath; and a collection of clothing by important early 20th-century Indianapolis designer George Philip Meier.
American Materials Collection
With nearly 33,000 objects, the American Materials Collection represents a wide variety of objects, including: the Dentzel Carousel; the Reuben Wells steam locomotive; original artwork by Alexander Calder, Dale Chihuly, Glenna Goodacre, Robert McCall, Tasha Tudor, and Norman Rockwell; and a drum carried by Edward Black, the youngest drummer boy in the Civil War
One of the most significant recent additions to the museum’s American collection is large private comic book collection. Comprising 21,000 volumes, it was compiled by the late Max Simon, who died unexpectedly in 1999 at the age of 25. Out of respect for his love of comics, his parents Bren and Melvin Simon donated the collection to the museum. It was used as the basis for the 2008 exhibit Comic Book Heroes: Featuring the Max Simon Comic Book Collection.
Objects from the American collection are used in exhibits and galleries throughout the museum, including in All Aboard!, The Power of Children: Making a Difference, Fireworks of Glass, and Carousel Wishes and Dreams.