The Smithsonian’s American Brewing History Initiative

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced an exciting new addition to the Food History project at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia last week. The American Brewing History Initiative will be an intensive three year endeavor to “collect, document, and preserve the history of brewing, brewers, and the beer industry.”

The project has been in the works for five years, curator Paula Johnson says, when research for the FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 exhibition led to an interest in the beginnings of the craft beer movement. While looking at the big changes in postwar American food and drink culture, the research team noticed parallels between the beginnings of the current craft beer scene and the growing interest in local food production around the country at the time. “We simply ran out of time to do the kind of in-depth research and collecting around brewing history that we needed to accomplish before opening the exhibition,” Johnson says. “So this topic has been on our wish list for a few years and the Brewers Association’s support will help make the research, documentation, and collecting possible.”

Since, the team has spoken informally with craft brewers around the country and launched several smaller programs at the museum exploring the history of brewing. The new initiative will be a significant expansion of the existing collections. “There are many parts of this story that relate to bigger themes in American history—tradition and innovation, entrepreneurship, environmental and economic history, community and creativity, etc. We’re looking forward to expanding the collection to reflect these bigger ideas, through the lens of brewing history.”

When asked about the timing of the initiative, Johnson explains that the craft beer industry has been around long enough to have the right perspective as they launch into research and collecting, and with the current growth of the beer industry, now is without a doubt the right time. “Around the country, craft brewing is a growing part of local economies, as well as community life and identity, and now is the moment to go into the archives and out in the field to research the dimensions of the story—both large and small scale endeavors.”

Scroll through the images above to get a taste of what’s to come, and stay tuned as the collection grows over the next three years.