The West Point Museum is our oldest federal museum. Its origins can be traced to the American Revolution. Captured artillery pieces, small arms and accouterments brought to West Point became training aids for the fledging Corps of Cadets and the Revolutionary War artillery park at Fort Clinton was a tourist attraction despite the relative isolation of the area in the late 18th century.
During the first half of the 19th century the Military Academy acquired additional military memorabilia along with mineralogical and natural specimens, military models, sculpture and other works of art, all intended for the education and inspiration of the Corps of Cadets. In a short time these various collections were of such interest that the galleries originally intended only for Cadets were converted into a public museum as visitation to the Hudson Highlands increased with improved transportation. Thus in 1854, while Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, the United States Government’s first museum was opened to the public. At first it was mainly a museum of weaponry with a scattering of natural, artistic and military curiosities, but by the twentieth century the West Point Museum became one of the leading American public museums with a collection of historic military artifacts unequalled for its breadth and diversity.
In its more than 150 years as public museum the West Point Museum has been housed in several locations. For most of the 19th century it was in the Academy (classroom) Building next to the Cadet barracks. When a new Academy Building was needed and the old one torn down in the 1890s the museum was included in the new building. A major rebuilding project at the turn of the century saw the museum moved to Taylor Hall (then the Headquarters Building) in 1909. The museum remained there until 1958, when it was moved to Thayer Hall, a new classroom facility. Finally, in 1988, the museum was moved to its current location in Olmsted Hall at Pershing Center. Through most of its existence the museum was known as the Ordnance Museum at West Point, but was renamed the West Point Museum in 1948 in recognition of the diversity of its collections.
Visitors today can view the actual weapons, uniforms and memorabilia of American soldiers from the 17th century to the present as well as military artifacts from around the world. The diverse weapons collections dates to ancient days and includes historic pieces belonging to such figures as George Washington, Napoleon I, John Pershing, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Adolph Hitler. The outstanding art collection includes works by noted artists including James Whistler, Robert Weir, Edouard Detaille and Frederic Remington. In short, a visit to the West Point Museum is truly a journey through history itself.