Sen. Sanders gives seal of approval to Smithsonian’s U.S.-made gifts

By:  Jacqueline Trescott

Smithsonian gift shop

After blasting the National Museum of American History for selling souvenirs that were not made in America, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) returned Wednesday to inspect the new products in one of the museum's stores.

"Any museum owned by the American people, discussing American history, should have American products. I made that my concern," Sanders said. "I'm proud to see that in a short period of time, there have been changes."

Right before Christmas, Sanders was shopping for his grandchildren and picked up the small busts of U.S. presidents, only to discover they were made in China. "I was disturbed," he recalled Wednesday. Sanders's concern led to meetings with administrative and business officials of the Smithsonian, which oversees the American History museum and the various shops' product lines. The Smithsonian promised to search for more U.S.-made merchandise and reconfigure one of its stores with those products by July 4.

The Price of Freedom store, next to the ever-popular Gunboat Philadelphia exhibit, was ready Wednesday, and Sanders looked over the displays. The store, which sells about 300 items, complements the military history focus of the adjoining exhibit.

"Here's an example, a T-shirt, that cost $10, made in the U.S. of A.," said Sanders, holding a black shirt with a Go Army slogan. "The goal is that if it can't be 100 percent, the museum does as much as possible."

Escorting Sanders was Brent D. Glass, the director of the museum, who had promised to work on the store's items. "Now 100 percent of the products in this store - the books, the puzzles, the throw rugs are all made in America," Glass said.

The museum reported that the business unit that oversees the stores has added 90 vendors since March 1, with 19 of those furnishing U.S.-made merchandise. More than 12,000 items are sold throughout all the museum stores, according to the Smithsonian, one-third of them U.S.-made.

With the changes, Glass said he believed that American History was the first major museum to have a gift shop with the "made in America" focus. The money from the shops, about $9 million a year, is used for Smithsonian exhibitions, programs and salaries.

On the way out, Sanders stopped at the store that originally brought this issue to his attention. The little busts of the presidents, Glass explained, were designed by an American artist and then fabricated in China. When the current inventory is sold out, the store will replace the statues with ones wholly made in the United States.

Sanders purchased a patriotic T-shirt. "Made in North Carolina," he said.