About the Museum Collection

What’s in the Collection

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is known for its archives documenting the Kennedy presidency. But the Library also includes a museum collection of almost 30,000 artifacts. Seeing objects connected to John F. Kennedy help give life to his story and the times in which he lived. The museum collection includes gifts from other world leaders, furniture, clothing, artwork, and memorabilia used by JFK or his family. Other parts of the collection document the public’s reaction to the President’s assassination and express the nation’s sense of loss. Still other objects reflect the hold Kennedy and his programs had on the popular imagination. Unique pieces like the coconut husk that led to the rescue of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 crew; the family bible used during JFK’s swearing in as the 35th U.S. President; and the designer dresses worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy that were so much a part of her public persona, form the basis of the museum’s exhibitions and help to interpret President Kennedy. A small collection of objects and fine art collected by Ernest Hemingway, one of JFK’s favorite writers, came into the museum after Hemingway’s widow donated her husband’s papers to the Library in 1986.

Starting the Collection

The original museum collection was formed between November 1963, following the President’s death, and 1979 when the new library building opened at Columbia Point in Boston. (Learn more about the history of the creation of the Library.) During the Kennedy presidency, the White House received thousands of items from world leaders, individuals from around the world; school and civic groups; businesses; and many other organizations. White House staff and the White House Gift Unit recorded the flow of gifts. Not everything was saved. Many items were given to charities. Others — like a Hermes desk set presented by President Charles de Gaulle of France, a “fingerprint” ashtray from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, a chair sent by Harvard University — were actually used in the White House. After President Kennedy’s death, these items were gathered together. Most became part of the Kennedy Presidential Library’s museum holdings.

Collecting Today for the Future

In more recent years the Library has been building its collection of museum objects tied to Kennedy’s different political campaigns. Products that reflect JFK’s cultural impact are also important. The Library continues to acquire personal belongings of the President and his family. These private objects — such as Kennedy’s reading glasses, his golf equipment, drawings by his young children, his World War II dog tags — compliment the artifacts from the Kennedy political career by creating a more human portrait of the man.

White House belongings shipped to NARA, 1964

A display from the JFK traveling exhibit created to fundraise for the presidential library, 1964

Senator Edward M. Kennedy viewing the JFK traveling exhibit, 1964

Moving JFK's golf cart into the Library building

Checking the condition of a doll in the Museum Collection