Give your kids a new perspective on history by adding our nation's best Presidential Libraries to your next family trip itinerary. These amazing museums are not only fun for kids, they're empowering, as they put classroom lectures and textbooks, historic movies, world news, and even daily conversation into a whole new context.
Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Prior to the establishment of the Presidential Library System, Presidential papers were kept as private property and later sold, destroyed, donated or preserved by heirs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Presidential papers--an important part of national heritage--should ultimately be made accessible to the public. By donating both his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government, he inspired the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. Since then, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains the 13 official Presidential Libraries from Herbert Hoover onward.
However, libraries and museums for Presidents prior to Herbert Hoover have been established by state governments and private foundations. We have also included these in our list of 10 best Presidential Libraries, because they also help families see and experience events that shaped who we are as a nation.
Ronald Regan Presidential Library and Museum (Simi Valley, CA): Walk through the Boeing 707 that served as Air Force One during the administrations of Reagan and six other presidents at the largest and more popular Presidential Library in the NARA system. Kids can reenact important moments on sets replicating the Reagan White House. It's also the final resting place of Ronald Regan.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (Boston, MA): Re-live Camelot. See The Ernest Hemingway Collection, an exhibit centered on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy, and learn about the Space Race. The architecture by I.M. Pei is just as stunning as the views.
William McKinley Museum and Presidential Library (Canton, OH): Owned and operated by the Stark County Historical Society, this kid-friendly site chronicles the President's life up to his assassination and even has a planetarium with science exhibits, including a mastodon skeleton.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum (Little Rock, AR): Visit the first federal building to receive the platinum LEED certification for environmental design. Walk through exact replicas of how rooms in the White House looked during the Clinton administration. Enjoy interactive exhibits, test your knowledge of the Secret Service and marvel at interesting gifts to the President from ordinary people and heads of state.
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (Springfield, IL): See the cane he used on the night of his assassination and brush up on Civil War trivia. Guests of all ages love the life-sized dioramas replicating his home and important events during his administration. This attraction is run by the state of Illinois.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (Hyde Park, NY): The first official Presidential Library is built on property donated by the President to the United States in order to house his collection of papers and memorabilia. Learn about the Great Depression, WWII and even tour his home. The library is undergoing a major renovation through June 2013.
President Harry S. Truman's funeral at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum — Photo courtesy of Truman Library Website
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum (Independence, MO): The President and First Lady are buried in the museum courtyard. Read over 1,300 letters from the Truman courtship and marriage. Remember the Korean War, Manhattan Project and other important events during the administration of this once very unpopular President. The library's website has a special kids section with games and fun trivia.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (West Branch, IA): Nine museum galleries display artifacts from the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, Australian outback and more. The library also houses manuscripts from Laura Ingalls Wilder. The President and First Lady rest in a large grassy area behind the building.
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (College Station, TX): The former President (George H.W. Bush) and First Lady visit often and have put huge a emphasis on educational programs for all ages. Kids stay interested through a scavenger hunt where they note exhibit highlights such as a 12-foot section of the Berlin Wall. Located at Texas A&M University.
Dwight D. Eisenhower's boyhood home — Photo courtesy of Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum (Abilene, KS): View the former President's boyhood home, burial site at the Place of Meditation and five exhibits centered around his personal and Presidential life. Boy Scouts may earn the special Eisenhower Leadership Patch during their visit.
Our first President, George Washington, is about to finally get his own Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, set to open in 2013.