Greatest WWII War Artifact Collections

A rabbit hole you may want to get into…

World War II is one of the most popular wars for people to study, mostly because it involved so many different countries all over the world. From studying wars of the past, we learn more about our society today and how it came to be.  We learn from the mistakes of those before us so that we do not repeat them.

If World War II in particular is interesting to you, then you are in luck.  There are three really great World War II artifact collections for you to learn from.  You can visit two of these collections in person, right here in the United States.  The third is actually a virtual collection that you can view from the comfort of your home.  It includes information on all the artifacts so that it is like you are receiving a virtual tour.  Read below to learn about the greatest World War II war artifact collections.

The National WWII Museum

Of all the collections mentioned in this article, the one at The National World War II Museum is the best. This museum, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, was designated by Congress as the official World War II museum of the United States.  It has a wide range of exhibits, all including artifacts from the war.  Its exhibits are immersive and include multimedia experiences as well as an expansive artifact collection. In total, there are more than 250,000 artifacts from the war.  There are also many first-person oral histories that are shared with visitors as well. The museum has records of over 9,000 personal accounts from veterans from all branches of service who experienced the war in many different capacities. The National World War II Museum focuses on the American experience in the war, however, and does not go into great detail about the experiences of other countries.

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Some of the museum’s most popular artifacts are those relating to specific and personal moments in the war.  Reading handwritten letters that soldiers wrote home gives you a glimpse into the daily life of a soldier overseas. View a set of keys from the USS West Virginia that were integral in the survival of Paul G. Williams at the beginning of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There are many items from important visitors of the most significant trials in history, the Nuremberg Trials. You can even learn about the animals that were adopted as pets by servicemen and women during the war.  

The most unique part about the National World War II Museum is BB’s Stage Door Canteen. This is a recreation of the real Canteen where GIs visited before they headed off to war.  There was live entertainment, food, and drinks to help people forget the troubles of war.  The canteen at the National World War II Museum features the same things.  There is unique and appropriate entertainment that showcases the songs and spirit of the time period. BB’s Stage Door Canteen has evening and matinee performances so those of all ages can enjoy.  This is a great way to immerse yourself into the era and feel like you’re a part of it all. 

Truman Library Institute

Surprisingly, the Truman Library Institute, located in Kansas City, Missouri, has a great collection of artifacts from World War II. President Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, was sworn in as president after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945.  He oversaw the end of the war, and as you can imagine, there are many war artifacts located in the Truman Library Institute. 

The World War II artifact collection at the Truman Library Institute holds some truly unique pieces.  For example, the collection has a water utilities sign that was located at Adolf Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps.  This sign was taken as a memento by the Allied forces and was eventually donated as an artifact.   There are also many haunting photographs of the treatment of Jews during the war and in concentration camps.  

One of the most interesting World War II artifacts in the collection is the safety plug from the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Before the bomb could be deployed and detonated, it was someone’s job to carefully remove a green safety plug and replace it with a red activation plug mid-flight. The person who did this, Frederick Ashworth, flew in the B-29 plane that carried the bomb.  

World War II and the Human Experience: Artifacts

Lastly, for a great virtual collection of World War II artifacts, visit “World War II and the Human Experience: Artifacts” through Google Arts and Culture. This article and collection, created and posted by the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, consists of a wide variety of personal items that shape our understanding of the war. The great thing about these personal items is that they all have a story that goes with them, which is quite fascinating. 

An interesting artifact in this collection is a gas mask that was made by the Mine Safety Appliances Company. This particular type of mask was made in limited quantities, and was just used for servicemen and women who needed to remain safe during a gas attack.  Another stand-out piece is the Graflex Corp, Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 camera from 1943.  Frequently, we see photographs from this time period depicting what happened during the war.  However, we don’t usually think about the person behind the camera.  Seeing a camera from this era helps us understand who the people were that photographed the war and what type of equipment they were using. 


While there are more artifact collections from World War II, the three mentioned in this article provide a well-rounded view of the war. Not only do they all focus on different types of artifacts, like personal items or verbal accounts of memories, but they all offer different ways of viewing and experiencing these artifacts.  If World War II is something you are interested in, then these collections are great for you to visit. 


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Written by Sgt. Gunner

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