National World War 1 Museum, Part 1 of 4

Avery Abernethy, 28 January 2019

Part 1 – Introduction

The national World War 1 Museum is located in Kansas City, Missouri.  It opened in 1926 and is the USA’s “official museum of the first world war.”  Unusual for a museum of this type, it is owned by a private foundation with support from the Kansas City park commission.  This is a private museum with some support from the city of Kansas City. Usually battlefield or military museums are run by the National Park Service, the Smithsonian, or other arm of the Federal Government.

Museum Tower

Museum Tower

The WW1 museum has an unusual design.  It is located on a high bluff overlooking Kansas City.  There is a huge stone tower with an elevator ride to the top with a scenic view of the city and the countryside.  The museum itself is located under the tower and dug into the bluff.  What you see from the street has no exhibit space, it is the tower with the accompanying elevator.

Tribute at the Liberty Memorial Kansas City c. 1940

Tribute at the Liberty Memorial Kansas City c. 1940

The museum opened in 1926 when WW1 was the “Great War to End All Wars.”  There was a huge crowd and a select group of “vestal virgins” on opening day.

Vestal Virgins at Opening Day

Vestal Virgins at Opening Day

The focus of this museum is far different from WW1 museums I’ve visited in the UK, France and Russia.  The focus is almost solely on ground combat on the Western front.  There is next to nothing on the Eastern Front, Air Combat, Naval Combat, and the War in the Middle East.

You walk on a transparent, glass floor over a field of 9,000 poppies to enter the museum.  Each poppy represents 1,000 combat deaths from the war.  This represents total deaths, not US combat deaths and MIAs which totaled 53,402.

Walking over Poppies

Walking over Poppies

The museum starts with an overview of the world just prior to WW1.  The Great Illusion, a book by Norman Angell is at the beginning of the exhibit.  This was an extremely popular book published in 1909 which made the case that the importance of international trade was so great that a widespread war was economic insanity. I’ve read about this book many times in comprehensive books on WW1, but I’ve never seen it incorporated into a museum exhibit.  The copyright expired on The Great Illusion and you can obtain an electronic copy free on https://archive.org/.

The Great Illusion

The Great Illusion

As a retired business professor with a strong interest in world trade and economics, Angell had a strong point.  The world had a better integrated trade network in 1914 prior to the war than any time until the collapse of the USSR and the reintegration of Russia and its communist satellites into world trade.  Only recently did agricultural production in the Ukraine, Russia, and Romania regain the prominence in the world that they held prior to WW1.

 


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