National World War I Museum and Memorial

Coordinates: 39°04′49″N 94°35′10″W / 39.08028°N 94.58611°W / 39.08028; -94.58611
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National World War I Museum and Memorial
Intersections, 2017 logo
EstablishedNovember 11, 1926; 97 years ago (1926-11-11)
LocationKansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Public transit accessStreetcar, bus
Nearest parkingOnsite (no charge)
National World War I Museum and Memorial
Museum in the Kansas City skyline
Coordinates39°04′49″N 94°35′10″W / 39.08028°N 94.58611°W / 39.08028; -94.58611
Built1926; 97 years ago (1926)
ArchitectHarold Van Buren Magonigle, Westlake Construction Company
George Kessler, landscape architect
Architectural styleBeaux Arts Classicism, Egyptian Revival
NRHP reference No.00001148
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 20, 2006[1]
Designated NHLSeptember 20, 2006[2]

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri was opened in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial. In 2004, it was designated by the United States Congress as the country's official war memorial and museum dedicated to World War I. A non-profit organization manages it in cooperation with the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners.[3] The museum focuses on global events from the causes of World War I before 1914 through the 1918 armistice and 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Visitors enter the exhibit space within the 32,000-square-foot (3,000 m2) facility across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each representing 1,000 combatant deaths.[4]

The museum was temporarily closed in 1994 for renovations and reopened in December 2006 with an expanded facility to exhibit an artifact collection begun in 1920.[5]


Liberty Memorial Association[edit]

Soon after World War I ended, a group of 40 prominent Kansas City residents formed the Liberty Memorial Association (LMA) to create a memorial to those who had served in the war. For president, they chose lumber baron and philanthropist Robert A. Long, who had personally donated a large sum of money.[6] James Madison Kemper was treasurer of the association, who had been briefly in 1919 the President of City Center Bank that was founded by his father, William T. Kemper. Real estate developer J. C. Nichols was a lead proponent, and businessman and philanthropist William Volker helped the city acquire the land. George Kessler was the landscape designer.[7]

In 1919, the LMA led a fund drive that included 83,000 contributors and collected more than US$2.5 million in less than two weeks (equivalent to $42.2 million in 2022), driven by what museum curator Doran Cart has described as "complete, unbridled patriotism".[8] This prevented the monetary problems that had plagued the Bunker Hill Monument for the American Revolutionary War in Boston one century earlier.[9]

Commemorative ceremonies at the Liberty Memorial, c. 1940.
Commemorative ceremonies on its 14th anniversary at the Liberty Memorial, c. 1940


Jacques, Diaz, Foch, Pershing, and Beatty were at the 1921 groundbreaking.

The groundbreaking ceremony on November 1, 1921, was attended by 200,000 people,[8] including Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, General of the Armies John J. Pershing of the United States, and 60,000 members of the American Legion. The local veteran chosen to present flags to the commanders was a Kansas City haberdasher, Harry S. Truman,[10] who would later serve as 33rd President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. The finished monument was dedicated on November 11, 1926, by 30th President Coolidge, in the presence of Queen Marie of Romania.[11] Coolidge announced that the memorial "...has not been raised to commemorate war and victory, but rather the results of war and victory which are embodied in peace and liberty ... Today I return in order that I may place the official sanction of the national government upon one of the most elaborate and impressive memorials that adorn our country. The magnitude of this memorial, and the broad base of popular support on which it rests, can scarcely fail to excite national wonder and admiration."[12]


In 1935, bas reliefs by Walker Hancock of Jacques, Beatty, Diaz, Foch, and Pershing were unveiled.[13]

bas reliefs
The Beatty, Foch, Pershing, Diaz, and Jacques reliefs

In 1961 the monument was rededicated by former President Harry S. Truman. The local effort to restore[14] the fading monument was headed by Armand Glenn, the local head of the central district legion. Local company Hallmark provided support, and on November 11, 1961, on its 40th anniversary, there was a large dedication ceremony on the memorial grounds. A crowd of 15,000 watched Truman preside over the service.

In 1981–1982, corresponding to its 60th anniversary, the building revealed new exhibits under improved lighting sources.[14]: 142 

The memorial was closed in 1994 due to safety concerns because aging had produced problems with drainage and the original construction. Local shopping malls voluntarily helped to display part of the museum collection while the memorial was unavailable. When the poor condition of the building became an embarrassment for the city,[8] Kansas City voters in 1998 passed a limited-run sales tax to support the restoration.[15] Plans were made to expand the site with a museum to accommodate the LMA's growing collection. Local, national, and international support provided $102 million (equivalent to $183 million in 2022), ultimately revealed at its 2006 reopening.[16]

In 2004, Congress named it the nation's official World War I museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot (7,400 m2) expansion and the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the original memorial. The year that this was completed, Liberty Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark on September 20, 2006.[17]

A substantial renovation, estimated at $5 million, began in December 2011.[18] It included $170,000 in energy efficiency upgrades and improvements to the artificial flame atop the tower.[19] After several months of dormancy, the flame was relit on February 1, 2013. Security was upgraded, certain limestone sections were repaired, and the brush was removed.[18][19]

An addition planned for completion in 2018[needs update] is the Wylie Gallery, to occupy unused space on the east side of the museum building.[20] It is part of a $6.4 million upgrade made possible by a fundraising campaign[21] coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the museum's 2006 reopening. The gallery houses traveling exhibits from around the world.[20][21][needs update]

Current designation[edit]

On December 19, 2014, President Barack Obama signed legislation recognizing it as "a 'World War I Museum and Memorial'", which resulted in the redesignation of the entire site as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.[22]


The national design competition was managed by Thomas R. Kimball, a former president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). After discord within the organization locally, the design contract was finally awarded to New York architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle. A disagreement between the Kansas City Chapter of AIA members and Kimball over the rules caused almost half of the local members to resign in April 1922. They immediately formed the Architectural League of Kansas City, which was merged into the AIA in the early 1930s. Unlike the AIA at the time, the Architectural League of Kansas City provided membership to less experienced architects and drafters and provided social and educational opportunities. Regardless of the controversy, many local architects submitted entries, including those who resigned from the AIA. The jury unanimously awarded the contract to Magonigle.[23]

Liberty Tower[edit]

Union Station and the skyline are viewed from atop the Liberty Memorial.

The main doors at the bottom of a large set of stairs are made from ornamental bronze, and the walls of the first-floor lobby are finished in Kasota stone[24] quarried in Kasota, Minnesota. The first-floor corridor and the grand stairway are finished in travertine imported from Italy.[24] At night, the top of the 217-foot-tall (66-meter) memorial tower emits a flame effect from steam illuminated by bright red and orange lights. The illusion of a burning pyre can be seen from some distance. Overall, the memorial rises 265 feet (81 meters) above the surrounding area.[25]

The tower is crowned with four sculptures, the Guardian Spirits. Carved by Robert Aitken and each standing 40 feet (12 m) tall, they represent protectors of peace, each holding a sword and named for a virtue: Honor, Courage, Patriotism, and Sacrifice.[citation needed]

External buildings[edit]

The tower and buildings are designed in the classical Egyptian Revival architecture style with a limestone exterior.[24] The foundation was constructed using sawed granite, and the exterior ground-level walls are made of Bedford stone. On opposite sides of the main deck of the Liberty Memorial are Exhibition Hall and Memory Hall.[26] Memory Hall includes murals originally painted for the Panthéon de la Guerre in Paris, and adapted by LeRoy Daniel MacMorris[14]: 99–111  in the 1950s.

Between each hall and the tower, above the museum entrance, sit two stone Assyrian sphinxes, named "Memory" and "Future", covering their faces with their wings. Memory faces East, shielding its face from the horrors of the European battlefields. Its counterpart faces West and shrowds its eyes from a future yet unseen.[26]

Main museum building[edit]

The underground portion was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates and expanded the original facilities.[27] The north side of the museum, opposite the main entrance and below the Liberty tower, contains a large work of art upon its wall, which is visible from neighboring Union Station.

The Great Frieze by Edmond Amateis.[28] The main inscription reads "These have dared bear the torches of sacrifice and service. Their bodies return to dust but their work liveth evermore. Let us strive on to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."


The grounds were designed by George Kessler[29] who is also famous for his pioneering City Beautiful design for the Kansas City park and boulevard system.[30] Kessler Road borders the west side.

Just outside the museum entrance is a large elliptical fountain, and on each side is a tapering staircase ascending to the memorial deck above. The approach from the south contains the Walk of Honor, a series of engraved bricks in three sections commemorating veterans of World War I, veterans of all wars, and honored civilians.[31]

Museum features[edit]

Liberty Memorial is flanked by Exhibition and Memory Halls and the unseeing sphinxes. Beneath them sit the museum and research center.
  • Two main galleries containing exhibitions with period artifacts. The first focuses on the beginning of the Great War prior to U.S. involvement, and the second focuses on the United States's military and civilian involvement in the war and efforts for peace.[32] Items in these collections include:
  • Two theaters have an educational narrative. One precedes the first gallery, and a larger one is passed through to enter the second gallery.[4]
  • The Edward Jones Research Center, carrying 75,000 archival documents, 9,500 library items, and additional objects.[35]
  • R.A. Long Education Center: A multi-purpose conference room and classroom[32]
  • J.C. Nichols Auditorium for special events[32][36]
  • The Over There Café featuring flags, music, artwork, and menu items inspired by "the people and places of the Great War".[33]
  • A museum store

Tree of Peace[edit]

On the North Lawn was planted a memorial tree called "The Tree of Peace" in honor of those who fought and died in World War I. The international project "Tree of Peace" officially represents Slovakia under the brand called "Good Idea Slovakia—Ideas from Slovakia". The trademark license was granted by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. The planting of the memorial tree was carried out under the auspice of the Honorary Consulate of Slovakia to the United States and the Consulate General of the Slovak Republic in New York City.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ "Liberty Memorial". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2008.
  3. ^ "Partners". National World War I Museum and Memorial. January 2017. Archived from the original on March 1, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  4. ^ "National World War I Museum". Society for Experiential Graphic Design. 2013. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  5. ^ Coleman, Daniel (2008). "Robert A. Long (1850-1934), Lumberman". Kansas City Public Library. Archived from the original on February 3, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  6. ^ Roe, Jason (February 9, 2015). "Monumental Undertaking". The Kansas City Public Library. Archived from the original on February 3, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Christian, Shirley (March 31, 1998). "World War I Museum's New Drive on the Home Front". The New York Times. New York, NY. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  8. ^ "Bunker Hill Monument: About the Monument". A View on Cities. Van Ermengem BVBA. 2017. Archived from the original on February 15, 2017. Retrieved February 3, 2017. [I]t took seventeen years to build the 221 foot (67 meter) granite monument because the supporters of the project kept running out of funds. As a matter of fact, the monument committee had to eventually sell 10 of the 15 acres they had purchased for the monument...
  9. ^ McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. p. 150. ISBN 0-671-86920-5.
  10. ^ Donovan, Derek (2001). "Marie, Queen of Romania Visits Kansas City's Liberty Memorial". Kansas City Star Books. Archived from the original on May 27, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  11. ^ Coolidge, Calvin (November 11, 1926). Address at the Dedication of the Liberty Memorial at Kansas City, Missouri (Speech). Dedication of the Liberty Memorial. Kansas City, MO. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  12. ^ Millstein 2006, p. 10.
  13. ^ a b c Donovan, Derek (2001). Lest the Ages Forget : Kansas City's Liberty Memorial. Kansas City Star Books. ISBN 0-9712920-1-9.
  14. ^ Hanc, John (November 3, 2015). "A World War I Memorial in Kansas City Is a Tribute to Giving". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 27, 2016. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  15. ^ Spencer, Laura (May 5, 2016). "National World War I Museum and Memorial to Add More Exhibit Space". KCUR 89.3. KCUR. Archived from the original on February 26, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  16. ^ Millstein 2006, p. 62.
  17. ^ a b "Renovation begins at National World War I museum at Liberty Memorial". Scripps Media, Inc. December 27, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Flame returns to Liberty Memorial". Meredith Corp. February 2, 2013. Archived from the original on December 20, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Campbell, Matt (December 24, 2016). "World War I Museum To Gain New Exhibit Space". The Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  20. ^ a b "KC Philanthropic Leaders Heed the "Call to Duty" Raising More than $5 Million to Construct New Exhibition Gallery at the National World War I Museum and Memorial". Vocus PRW Holdings, LLC. May 6, 2016. Archived from the original on September 13, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  21. ^ Campbell, Matt (December 22, 2014). "Liberty Memorial is Officially the National Memorial to World War I". The Kansas City Star. Mi-Ai Parrish. Archived from the original on December 31, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  22. ^ Ehrlich, George (Autumn 1999). "The Rise and Demise of the Architectural League of Kansas City". Kawsmouth, A Journal of Regional History. 1 (2): 64–73.
  23. ^ a b c Norell, Jack. "Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, MO". Archived from the original on February 26, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  24. ^ "Liberty Memorial Complex". Skyscraper Source Media. 2017. Archived from the original on February 26, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  25. ^ a b "Elements of the Museum and Memorial". National World War I Museum. 2017. Archived from the original on March 1, 2017. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  26. ^ "National World War I Museum". Ralph Applebaum Associates. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  27. ^ "Site Dedication and Construction Preliminaries, 1921-1923". Archived from the original on November 20, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  28. ^ "Featured Historic Place: Liberty Memorial Kansas City, MO". National Park Service. 2007. Archived from the original on May 27, 2017. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  29. ^ Wilson, William H. (1964). The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City. University of Missouri Press.
  30. ^ Baillergeon, Rick; Porter, Scott A. (August 20, 2014). "National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Mo". Armchair General. Armchair General LLC. Archived from the original on March 1, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  31. ^ a b c "The Years 1917-1919; The Years 1914-1917". Map & Gallery Guide (leaflet). National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. 2015.
  32. ^ a b Paul, R. Eli (2009). National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. Marceline, MO: Donner Company Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57864-569-5.
  33. ^ McNair, Doug (November 2007). "Report from the Road: The National World War One Museum". Avalanche Press. Avalanche Press Ltd. Archived from the original on February 4, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  34. ^ "Edward Jones Research Center". National World War I Museum. 2017. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  35. ^ "Private Events". National World War I Museum. 2017. Archived from the original on February 4, 2017. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  36. ^ Marine, Ross (June 28, 2019). "The "Tree of Peace" was planted on the American continent". Tree of peace / Strom pokoja. Retrieved June 28, 2019.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]