Mad Men Heads Off Air and Into American History Museum

Mad Men

Don Draper, his family and his colleagues will be featured in the final episodes of Mad Men, which air starting next weekend. But the television show and its depiction of the 1960s in attitudes, attire and social change will live on. As the acclaimed show heads off the air, more than 50 artifacts from Mad Men, including iconic costumes and props, are going to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The museum has a number of items from classic television programs, from Kermit the Frog to the puffy shirt from Seinfeld, in its American Stories exhibit. But the Mad Men pieces, which include Draper’s charcoal gray suit and Cordova fedora as well as his wife Betty’s yellow shirt-waist dress, will be part of a new exhibit on the country’s consumer culture.

While Mad Men featured life in a fake advertising agency, the museum’s American Enterprise exhibit opening July 1 deals with the tremendous impact of advertising and branding. Actual objects from mid-20th century advertising professionals will be featured in American Enterprise, along with the objects from the television ad agency. The exhibition wants to tie the two together to depict the “creative revolution” of the 1950s and ’60s, which shaped the advertising industry.

“This first-ever business history exhibition at the Smithsonian places the consumer at the center of the story and looks at advertising as the essential bridge between products and people,” commented Kathleen Franz, assistant professor of history at American University who was co-curator of the museum’s new exhibit. She pointed out the during “the Consumer Era, between the 1940s and 1970s, television became a big business and changed the world of advertising and marketing.”

Curators at the Smithsonian were happy to get the real 1960s-period props from the Mad Men set. Those props included cigarette cartons, liquor bottles, shaving kits and toothbrushes used in the show that reflect the period. The show used actual objects not re-creations for many of its props.

Television fans visiting the museum should also visit the American Stories exhibit. It contains a mix of object throughout U.S. history, The museum exhibit examines culture, politics, economics, science, technology and others things that have shaped the country.

While the museum displays include many historical objects, those of interest to television, sports and Broadway fans that the museum has in its collection (which, given the large amount, those on display change periodically):

  • Harry Potter’s school robes from Hogwarts,
  • The ruby slippers Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz,
  • Apolo Ohno’s speed skates from the 2002 Winter Olympics,
  • Bob Dylan’s jacket,
  • Boxing gloves Muhammad Ali wore in his 1974 match against George Foreman,
  • Archie Bunker’s chair from All in the Family,
  • Joel Grey’s hat from the movie Cabaret, and
  • Elphaba’s costume from the musical Wicked

As Mad Men heads off the air and into American television history, it will be remembered for years to come on Netflix and in the museum collections. The advertising display and the cultural items from other TV shows, including The Wonder YearsM*A*S*H and Seinfeld, that chronicle America’s evolving interests.

By Dyanne Weiss

American History Museum
American History Museum

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