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Consider Washington's history through forward-facing topics that are relevant today. Changing exhibitions are on the fifth floor, and the Great Hall of Washington History is on the third floor. 

Exhibitions are generously supported by presenting sponsors The Norcliffe Foundation and South Sound Magazine.

As of 5:00 PM March 12, 2020, Washington State History Museum is temporarily closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 virus. Staff are available and you may reach out via email or phone. We look forward to engaging with our communities again soon. Please check back for updates. 

In the Great Hall of Washington History, see intricate Native basketry, snap a selfie in a covered wagon, step into an old-time general store, and get a close-up look at Clovis points (some of the oldest human-made artifacts in the state!). Explore immigration in Washington: My Home.

Current featured exhibitions - click for more:  

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Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. 
Exhibition on view through March 15, 2020

In this new Smithsonian traveling exhibition, visitors will be immersed in the narrative of our nation through the stories of revolutionary, iconic African American men. 

Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. presents the history of more than two dozen known and unknown  leaders, past and present, illuminating their change-making contributions through bold, contemporary visual art, fresh literary excerpts, and vibrant stories. The exhibition highlights men such as Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. Du Bois, Kendrick Lamar and more, whose journeys altered the history and culture of our country through politics, sports, science, entertainment, business, religion and more.
Created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), Men of Change is made possible through the support of Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services. Local exhibition support is generously provided by Alaska Airlines and The Norcliffe Foundation.

Unforgiving waters

Unforgiving Waters: Shipwrecks of the Pacific Northwest
Exhibition on view January 25-May 31, 2020

The Pacific Northwest is a place of rocky beaches and shifting sands, of high winds and raging seas. Its geography is beautiful, but dangerous. Waterways have served as the lifeline for people of coastal regions, a center of commerce but also, at times, a place of great tragedy.

Over two thousand shipwrecks rest at the bottom of Northwest waters. Each one has its own story of stormy weather, fateful catastrophe, or simple human failing. Many of the objects in this exhibition were plucked from the remains of ships. What we know about these wrecks varies and is sometimes dependent on the accounts of people who survived, few of whom traveled in lower class surroundings. In some cases, history has been inferred by rescuers and researchers. Mystery yet remains for many shipwrecks about what happened to a ship or why it went down. We can still learn much from the objects and stories that were recovered.

Ordinary Bicycle

Collections Selections: The Not-So-Ordinary 
Exhibition on view February 1-October 11, 2020

See a selection of historic bicycles from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wheeled out from the Historical Society's collections. These bicycles were commonly called "ordinary bicycles" or "penny farthings." They have a connection to suffrage, too; can you guess what that might be? Visit and find out more.


David Bacon full size

In Washington's Fields: Photographs by David Bacon 
Exhibition on view February 1
-May 10, 2020

David Bacon is a photojournalist, author, activist, and organizer. Much of his work focuses on farm labor issues. While the people in his photographs are integral to the process of putting food on tables throughout the country, their daily lives are often unseen. This selection of photographs and narrative panels conveys the stories of the people working in farm fields in central and western Washington and their fight for worker's rights'.

Permanent Exhibits

The Great Hall

Our largest exhibit at the Washington State History Museum, The Great Hall of Washington History is a walk through time. This year-round space showcases some of our earliest history with the Clovis Points and a variety of artifacts from Native American civilization and culture, and explains the progression through statehood including industrialization, the war and post-war eras, women's suffrage, immigration and migration, and more. Allow at least two hours to fully absorb the material in the Great Hall of Washington History.
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History Lab

The History Lab Learning Center engages visitors with interactive exhibits featuring historical concepts such as Time, Place, Viewpoint, Exploration, and Precedent. In the learning center, visitors of all ages are encouraged to use the Tools of the History Trade (artifacts, ephemera, books and periodicals, people, maps, and images) to think like detectives in search of evidence. The History Lab exhibit is on the fifth floor of the History Museum.

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Model Railroad

Don your conductor's cap and climb aboard the History Museum's own model railroad. Watch history being made as the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers club continues construction on the 1,800-square-foot permanent layout depicting the rail lines from Tacoma's Point Defiance Park to the Stampede Pass tunnel in the Cascades. Join us when we celebrate model trains with our annual Model Train Festival.

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