Smithsonian's Museum of American History to reopen

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- America's attic is back.

After a renovation lasting more than two years and costing $85 million, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History is finally set to reopen Friday.

"This building is home to many of our national treasures," President Bush said during a ceremony Wednesday at the museum in downtown Washington. "It is a reminder of our country's proud heritage. And today we're witnessing the beginning of an exciting new era in its history."

The 44-year-old building's overhaul features, among other things, a new five-story atrium and a 45-foot-long floor-to-ceiling glass wall displaying a restored 200-year-old Star-Spangled Banner in an environmentally controlled chamber.

The center of the building has been largely rebuilt to include a new grand staircase and a skylight. The overhauled museum also features an extensive welcome center and auditorium, along with new dining facilities.

"For people of all ages, a visit to the National Museum of American History can be a defining event, providing a deep and fundamental understanding of what it has meant to be an American," Brent D. Glass, director of the museum, said in a written statement.

"Millions of visitors will enjoy new opportunities to explore the American narrative and the core stories of our national experience in an inspiring and memorable setting."

Among the artifacts on display at the museum are George Washington's uniform, an early light bulb from Thomas Edison, Mr. Rogers' red cardigan sweater and the desk at which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

A handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address, penned by Abraham Lincoln himself and usually kept in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, will be be on display at the museum through January 4.

"This museum seeks to make our history, the American story, available for all, young and old, to see, experience and to learn," said PBS and former CNN journalist Judy Woodruff, who served as master of ceremonies for the day's events.

"We don't want our story to be confined to dark, dusty corners but out in the light and available to all," she said.

"For too long now ... we have been doing an inadequate job of teaching the history of our country to our children and grandchildren," noted historian David McCullough, who edited a series of books about the Smithsonian library.

"We have been raising several generations of young Americans who are, by and large, historically illiterate. ... We have to do something about it. Bring them here to this museum to let them see for themselves, and let them see how much it means to us."