Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. Word “museum” comes from ancient Greek “mouseion” which meant “seat of Muses” and it was used for philosophical institution or for a place for contemplation. In Rome, Latin word “museum” was used for places for philosophical discussions. The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for the education of the public. This is often accomplished through temporary or permanent exhibits.

Many public museums make their items available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. The largest museums are in major cities throughout the world, while thousands of local museums exist in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. Museums have varying aims, ranging from serving researchers and specialists to educating the public, and frequently have guides and educators, who usually serve on a voluntary basis to lead tours. These individuals are known as “docents,” a word derived from the Latin word docēns, the present active participle of docēre (to teach, to lecture).

The Smithsonian Institution (above) was established with the legacy bequeathed by James Smithson and is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoological Park. “The Castle,” the institutions first building (1847) remains its headquarters.

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Massachusetts (c.1939 - ?) Historic Building, American History

The Presidential Library system formally began in 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers to the Federal Government. At the same time, President Roosevelt pledged part of his estate at Hyde Park to the United States, and friends of the President formed a private, non-profit corporation to raise funds for the construction of the library and museum building.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum California (November 21, 1988 - ?) Historic Building, American History, Simi Valley

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, held on November 21, 1988, President Reagan proclaimed, “But I believe that scholars of good will . . . will judge our efforts well. But as for us, at present, we can only say this: we have done our best and we pray it has been enough.” At its conception, the future Reagan Library was faced with three major questions . . .