The World War One Museum and Memorial in Kansas City Missouri, is recognized by the US government as the National WW1 museum in the United States. The location was even dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in front of more than 150,000 people in 1921. In 2004, Congress officially declared the museum as the official National WWI museum. Shortly after, the monument was named a National Historic Landmark in 2006 and was named as America's WW1 Memorial by Congress in 2014. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the Liberty Memorial in front of more than 150,000 people after its opening in 1926.
History of the Liberty Memorial
The War to End All Wars was reaching its end at the start of 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles peace conferences opened in Paris. Although the official end of the war didn’t occur until January of 1920, the Ottoman surrender and the German evacuation of Belgium around the beginning of 1919 essentially ended the fighting.
That same year, the LMA and a group of men from Kansas City decided to gather to put forth the idea of a lasting monument to memorialize 441 men from Kansas City who served and those who died in the Word War. The LMA also began collecting artifacts for the memorial that same year. Once it reached a global scope and was recognized by the United States government, there were fund raising efforts to build a monument that were met with substantial acclaim and unity. Therefore, in a period of 10 days, the LMA and citizens of Kansas City raised more than $2.5 million (which is equivalent to about $34 million today). this group of people include everyone from lumberman R.A. Long (lumber baron and civic leader), to school children. Nowadays, this staggering accomplishment endures as a symbol of the public sentiment and the worldwide, dramatic effect of the war.
The ceremony was directed by five supreme Allied commanders from allying countries. The dedication, as impressive as it was, also marked the first time in history that these leaders were all in the same place together at the same time. The monument, which displayed a classical Egyptian Revival style, was completed just five years later in 1926. At another annual convention, “of the American Legion in Kansas City, Mo., October 31 and November 1 and 2, 1921, the veterans and other participants heard bold words expressed that the noble memorial would be an enduring symbol of the lofty spirit of self-sacrifice that inspired those who gave their all in the world struggle for liberty” (Naylor, 2014). A big part of why the location of the Memorial sits where it does is due to the fact that it is directly across from Union Station. At this time during the war (1918), Union Station became a central location for soldiers passing through for training and then get shipped off. Another reason for the location of the Memorial is because Kansas City, at the time, was a hub for shipping and railroad transports.
Closing of the Memorial
Unfortunately, time and a lack of maintenance had a detrimental effect on the memorial’s physical structure, and it closed in 1994.
In 1995, there was a remodel on the original memorial to fit national standards for accessibility and security along with a state-of-the-art museum space all done by Ralph Applebaum Associates.
In 1998, Kansas City locals and city leaders passed a limited-run sales tax supporting the memorial’s restoration, and it was during this year that plans took shape to expand the site by building a museum. According to these plans and the LMA, the museum would be able to showcase a myriad of WWI-related objects and documents the LMA has collected since 1920. The city, along with the State of Missouri, the United States government and generous individual donors raised more than $102 million for the restoration and expansion. Again, the remodel and expansion was done by Ralph Applebaum Associates.
The Liberty Memorial Tower rises 217 feet above the museum and 268 feet above the North Lawn. The tower, at its base, is 36 feet around while at the top it is 28 feet around. One can take an elevator up to the top of the tower to climb 45 steps being able to see a view of Kansas City and its skyline. The observation deck is open on all sides where you can feel the wind blowing in your face. You can even look at the top of the tower at night to see steam and light creating the effect of a flame to symbolize the sacrifice of those who served in the war.
Located at the base of the tower, there are Assyrian sphinxes on the East and West side of the tower with their wings shielding their faces from the horrors of war. The one to the East symbolize memory while the other symbolize the future.
Exhibits and Collection Featured at the Museum
The museum opened to the public in 2006, and the National World War One Museum has introduced more than one million people to all of the nuances of the Great War. Exhibitions take an immersive look into everything from the first shots fired in 1914 to the long-lasting effects of the war after the Treaty of Versailles. Interactive tables, videos, and recreated trenches form just a small example of what’s available throughout the 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art museum.
Underneath the Liberty Memorial, the Edward Jones Research Center contains 75,000 documents as well as over 8,000 library titles, all available for free.
The importance of the World War I museum dates back to 1919, when several community leaders throughout Kansas City and the Liberty Memorial Association (LMA) began planning a monument dedicated to the men and women who fought in this war. The Memorial was originally created by H. Van Buren Magonigle in the early 1920’s. Since its completion, the World War I monument has hovered over Kansas City as a memoriam to this war, and by 2004, with Congress’s dedication, Kansas City built a museum to house the thousands of artifacts gathered by the LMA.
In 2006, the city built an 80,000-square-foot facility to house WWI artifacts and exhibits from the LMA and many other private donators. Since its opening, the museum has received substantial national acclaim and over one million visitors, including politicians, actors, singers, and even the last surviving WWI veteran, Frank Buckles (who visited in 2008.)
The collection has been widely acclaimed as the most significant aspect of the museum. With over 75,000 items including journals, uniforms, weapons, trench digging tools, gas masks, and much more, the museum is able to tell the stories from every belligerent nation involved. Both the front lines and the home front are explored through the collection.
The exhibits, which include permanent exhibits in the Main Gallery as well as rotating exhibits, allows visitors to experience the war from the eyes of the men and women who lived (or died) during the war. Some important exhibits featured in the Main Gallery include a full-size French-made Renault FT-17 tank, a crater created from a 17-inch howitzer shell, life-sized trenches, and a myriad of other comprehensive exhibits.