Made in America: Smithsonian Promises to Sell More American-Made Souvenirs

Rep. Nick Rahall demands the museums sell only American-made goods.

March 8, 2011 -- From the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial to the White House and the Washington Monument, Washington D.C. is home to iconic American landmarks. However, the souvenirs sold there so visitors can take a small piece of the nation's capital home with them are anything but American.

It's difficult to find a D.C. keepsake that's not foreign-made. The busiest gift shops in the city are at the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, where everything from presidential busts to Elvis bobbleheads are made in China.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the Smithsonian's top officials into his office to demand they sell "Made in the USA" products. Previously the Smithsonian suggested that it was just too expensive, but any tourist can find domestically-produced gifts at a thriving shop called Appalachian Spring a few blocks away.

Proprietor David Brooks has been in business for 43 years. He sells only American-made products and his goods help employ some 400 crafts people.

Brooks says that if the Smithsonian museums sold work by American craftsmen, they could create work for thousands of people. People like Loren Lukens, a pottery maker in Seattle.

"That would be a gold mine to have my work at the Smithsonian. Even if it's just in the gift shop." Lukens said.

The Smithsonian hosts 30 million visitors every year and last year its gift shops made almost $44 million.

After the meeting with Sanders, Smithsonian officials said they would sell more American-made souvenirs and promised to devote one gift shop to American-made products.

Sanders said, "It's a start." However, for some in Congress, it's not good enough.

Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the Smithsonian, said he plans to introduce a bill that would require the Smithsonian to sell only American-made goods.