The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is the presidential museum and resting place of Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States (1974–1977), and his wife Betty Ford, located near the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ford’s presidential museum is the only such facility under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration to be separate from the presidential library, which is located approximately 130 miles (210 km) to the east in Ann Arbor. Despite the separation, the library and museum are a single institution with one director.
At the core of the Gerald R. Ford Museum is the permanent exhibit, which allows visitors to experience highlights from President and Mrs. Ford’s lives. The exhibit teaches democratic citizenship and allows for quiet reflection. In addition to the permanent exhibits, changing temporary exhibits draw artifacts from Museums all over the country.
Not all museum programming revolves around the exhibits; we also offer a wide variety of family-friendly events and lectures on a regular basis; the Museum Store sells items relating to the Ford presidency, other Presidents and First Ladies, and other souvenirs.
The Ford Museum opened to the public in September 1981 and is part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, a Federal agency. The Ford Museum is in Grand Rapids, Michigan while the Ford Library is in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Funds for the construction of the museum were raised from over 14,000 individual donations through the efforts of the Gerald Ford Commemorative Committee, the University of Michigan, the State of Michigan, Kent County, and the City of Grand Rapids.
The 44,000-square-foot (4,100 m2) two-story triangular museum was designed by Marvin DeWinter Associates and built at a cost of $11 million. The museum is one of the highlights in a 20-acre (8.1 ha) park complex that includes the Grand Rapids Public Museum along the west bank of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids. The building was dedicated September 18, 1981, with a gala celebration attended by President and Mrs. Reagan, President José López Portillo of Mexico, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sunao Sonoda, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Bob Hope served as master of ceremonies and part of the festivities were recorded for TV broadcast. The east side of the structure is enclosed by a 300-foot-wide (91 m) glass wall providing a view of the river and downtown Grand Rapids beyond. The main entrance features a reflecting pool and fountain to welcome visitors. The site is linked with downtown hotels and shops by a pedestrian bridge spanning the river.
The core exhibits were completely redesigned as part of a major building expansion completed in 1997 allowing for a broader program of changing feature exhibits and events. Expanded funding from the Gerald R. Ford Foundation supported the expansion and expanded programming.
The main floor contains exhibits on President Ford’s life and career and the Office of President. Candid photographs of Ford interacting with his family and colleagues offer the visitor a personal glimpse of the president. This floor includes a full-scale replica of the Oval Office furnished as it was during Ford’s presidency.
Special exhibits highlight the 1976 Bicentennial celebration and Mrs. Ford’s role during her husband’s term in office. Other exhibits, which are the core of the museum’s program, enable visitors to travel by video with President Ford and Secretary Kissinger to various hot-spots around the globe; take a holographic tour of the Ford White House; and experience a day in the Oval Office through a sound and light show. A Watergate gallery includes a six-minute, multi-screen history beginning with the June 1972 break-in and a display of the actual burglary tools. An interactive Cabinet Room allows visitors to take part in presidential decision making. Visitors can see gifts presented by heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, as well as personal gifts to Ford from the American people. The award-winning film, “A Time To Heal,” is shown hourly in the museum auditorium. A section of the Berlin Wall stands in the museum’s lobby, which was dedicated by Ford on September 6, 1991.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, a succession of temporary exhibits draws upon the rich holdings of the entire Presidential libraries system, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and others.
The museum collections houses approximately 20,000 artifacts from the life and career of President Ford. Mrs. Ford’s life is represented as well. Artifacts include Boy Scout materials, head of state gifts, bicentennial materials, re-election campaign materials, and clothing.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum are sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation whose mission is to support historical exhibits, educational programs, conferences, research grants, and awards. In addition to providing funding for the library and museum, the foundation publishes a semi-annual report of activities, sponsors the William E. Simon Lectures in Public Affairs, awards journalism prizes for excellence in reporting on the presidency and defense issues and awards grants-in-aid of up to $2,000 to researchers who use the Ford Library archival holdings. Another part of the foundation’s mission is to honor the principles and values demonstrated by Gerald Ford throughout his public service career.
With the assistance of the Ford Presidential Foundation, the museum sponsors scholarly conferences and community activities independently or in conjunction with other organizations such as the University of Michigan and the Domestic Policy Association.
Museum staff organizes and hosts special events that range from period fashion shows to activities for school children and in-service workships for area teachers. The museum annually hosts naturalization ceremonies for new citizens and opens the grounds to community festivities and Independence Day fireworks. Other regular programs at the museum include the Great Decisions Lecture Series which brings guest speakers on selected foreign policy topics and features audience discussions and completion of “opinion ballots”. It maintains an ongoing partnership with the Close Up Foundation that encourages student awareness of public issues and sponsors a Citizens Bee, a competitive exam for high school students with questions focused on history and political affairs. The American Political Film Series annually presents eight motion pictures that frequently deal with highly charged topics for discussion. At Christmastime, area youth are invited to create ornaments for the large tree in the museum lobby.