A recent renovation brings technology to the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. The new interactive touch tables engage adults and children and help spark the desire to learn more about the history of WWI. The exhibit featuring the importance of mules and other animals is not to be missed.

Interactive touch tables have been installed throughout the main gallery of the National WWI Museum and Memorial. This easy-to-use technology engages visitors in ways that make the lessons interesting and memorable.
Photo Courtesy of National WWI Museum and Memorial

By Sandy Selby

The National WWI Museum and Memorial unveils new interactive exhibits.

The mood in the room was an uncommon mix of reverent and playful. A dozen museum visitors were divided up among four interactive touch tables. Some were dragging planes out of mid-air to get the intel on each one. Others were choosing between a flare, telephone, or carrier pigeon to send an important message.

Karis Erwin, the vice president of marketing and guest services at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, led the tour through the main gallery, showing off the innovations scattered throughout the space.

“The main gallery opened in 2006, and it really hasn’t been updated since then,” she said. “Since that time, technology has advanced, and the way people learn has changed.”

The recently completed updates can be found in four areas of the main gallery, starting with the first section: “Grand Illusions.”

“It’s our prologue area,” Karis says. “It really sets the stage for what was going on before the war started. The goal here is for us to show a truly international perspective.” That is accomplished through a map- based, interactive media display that showcases the empires, alliances, and everyday citizens who would soon become intertwined in the war.

Photo Courtesy of National WWI Museum and Memorial

The touch tables that feature aircraft, communications, maritime, and uniform themes come next and are already proving popular with museum visitors. “We didn’t have a lot for children to do,” Karis says of the new high-tech offerings at the museum. “Bringing in this technology really meets kids where they are. They’re familiar with this technology, and they just come over and figure out how to work it.”

After visitors see a short film about America’s entry into the war, they arrive in the “America Mobilizes” section, where they will encounter new displays on American patriotism and dissent.

Both children and adults are captivated by the freshened exhibit that educates about the animals that were an important part of the war effort. A compelling and artful display shows a life-sized soldier and mules pulling the museum’s caisson artifacts up a muddy hill. “Mules played a really important role in the war, transporting goods,” Karis says. She points out that the mule display that this one replaced didn’t accurately depict the animals—“they were like horses with big ears”—and they weren’t shown struggling through the mud.

Photos Courtesy of National WWI Museum and Memorial

Just beyond those muddy mules is a touchscreen display that reveals stories of the animals that worked during the war and a few that lifted spirits as mascots and pets.

All these new experiences encompass the second phase of updates at the museum. The first was the renovation of the lower level that opened last May and features the Berman Family Gallery and Open Storage Center. There, visitors can view hundreds of additional artifacts and watch the curatorial affairs team at work in the laboratory. The next phase, “Into the Trenches,” will open next spring. It will recreate the trench experience and allow guests to step inside the displays for a truly immersive experience.

Preview the exhibits and plan your visit to the National WWI Museum and Memorial at TheWorldWar.org.

Read about a POW exhibit that was on display at the National WWI Museum and Memorial here.

Article originally published in the January/February 2024 of Missouri Life.