Four Cincinnati area museums in running for nation’s best

Four Cincinnati area museums are in the running for the nation’s best museums.

Cincinnati Museum Center has been named a finalist for the country’s best museums for both its history museum and children’s museum. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has also been nominated. And the American Sign Museum has been nominated in the best pop culture museum category.

Voting by the public at USA Today through Feb. 13 will determine whether the Cincinnati-based museums will be named the nation’s best in their respective areas.

Elizabeth Pierce
Elizabeth Pierce

“For decades we’ve seen the impact our museums have had on our community as its grown, learned and made memories with us,” said Elizabeth Pierce, CMC president and CEO. “Now is our opportunity to show the rest of the country how incredible our museums are and declare what we’ve always believed: we are not only the best museum in the country, we are the best museums in the country.”

Each category includes 20 finalists from across the country, with the winner decided following a four-week online vote. Voting is open now and ends at 11:59 a.m. EST on Feb. 13.

The USA TODAY 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards finalists are selected by a panel of experts and editors. Each category includes 20 finalists from across the country, which are then ranked according to a fan vote over four weeks. Everyone can vote for each category once per day, per device.

CMC is a nationally-accredited museum recognized by the American Alliance of Museums for its excellence in the museum field. It opened in its current home at Union Terminal in 1990 with the Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater. The Children’s Museum opened as part of CMC in 1998.

The Cincinnati History Museum traces its roots to the Cincinnati Historical Society in 1831. It’s among the nation’s premier regional history museums, showcasing incredible historic artifacts alongside interactive experiences that transport guests to the city’s earliest days. The Cincinnati History Museum features five exhibits that invite guests to tower over a scale model reproduction of historic Cincinnati, walk the cobblestone streets of the mid-19th century riverfront, meet the innovators and entrepreneurs who powered Porkopolis and the Queen of the West, discover what has come to define the city as Cincinnati and explore the ways the city has shaped and been shaped by the land around it. Together, the exhibits take guests through more than 250 years of Cincinnati history, with additional galleries in development.

“History isn’t just about the past or some event frozen in time, it’s dynamic and informs who and where we are today,” said Pierce. “We’ve designed a history museum lets us travel to the past while finding its place in the present, being both immersive and introspective in a way that is both wildly enjoyable and powerfully informative.”

The Children’s Museum opened in 1998 and is now helping its second generation learn through play. The museum turns unbound energy into unbridled curiosity as kids, and adults, splash, climb and play through 11 themed areas. Among the most popular areas is The Woods, where kids can explore two levels of a forest, climbing into the treetops, crawling through logs and peering inside an aquarium filled with local aquatic wildlife. With flowing streams, locks, geysers and jets, the power and properties of water spring to life in Water Works. Cause-and-effect and simple machines come to life as a blizzard of plastic balls cascade and float in the Energy Zone. Kids also learn about healthy food choices, sorting and job roles in a mini Kroger grocery and about proper oral health in a positive, inviting way by stepping Inside the Grin, a massive anatomically-accurate recreation of a mouth.

The Freedom Center is a nationally-accredited museum by the American Alliance of Museums, a distinction held by just 6% of museums nationwide. Since its opening in 2004, it has shared stories of freedom’s heroes from the era of the Underground Railroad to modern day. The museum is located on the banks of the Ohio River, where many enslaved people took their first steps on free soil after self-liberating through the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s. Through immersive, thought-provoking exhibits, programming and films the Freedom Center continues to be a convener of dialogue around issues of freedom, the denial of freedom, systemic racism, implicit bias and modern-day enslavement. During a visit, guests are introduced to freedom conductors including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, John Rankin, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Box Brown, Margaret Garner and the millions whose names have long been forgotten.

“We are honored to once again be recognized alongside some of the top history museums in the country,” said Woodrow Keown, Jr., president and COO of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “Being acknowledged for now the third time is a testament to the work we do and the importance of the stories we share. It shows how relevant this history remains and the critical role museums like ours play in weaving and preserving the fabric of our shared cultural heritage. We hope supporters locally and around the country vote to help us be recognized as not the second or third best, but the best history museum in the country.”

Vote for the Cincinnati History Museum at, the Children’s Museum at and the Freedom Center at

In 2022, the American Sign Museum was #10 in the 10 best pop culture museums. Vote for it here:

The public can vote once per day, per category, per device.

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