Start a Museum

We have long thought of ourselves as a flying museum, restoring aircraft and showcasing them to educate the public about the experiences of Americans during World War II. The CAF acts as a national repository for many associated artifacts from the War, with museums open to the public to extend our educational outreach. No plane? No problem. With or without aircraft, your unit can make a mark on your community with artifacts!


There are many noble reasons for having a museum be a part of your unit’s educational outreach.

  • Be a part of the community and spread the CAF mission

  • Keep memories alive from those who served

  • Create volunteer opportunities for veterans

  • Share collections of interesting artifacts with the public

  • Provide a place to safeguard important pieces of history

  • Educate, share, engage and preserve


Evaluate your goals and take a close look at how a museum can help you reach them. The CAF Education team and museum experts at CAF headquarters are your first line of support. Read the overview below, then reach out to the team if you need help to start the ball rolling.


Start with your own artifacts

Have a collection or the start of one? The first step is to catalog, catalog, catalog! Create a detailed inventory database including the history and properties of each item in detail. This will help you formalize your existing collection and make it an easier process when you have the opportunity to add to it. Include a quality photo of each item as well.


Number each item to connect it with your database using a digital numbering system. In the museum world, this is called the trinomial numbering system, which is an easy way to give each item an identification number that can be used in your database for tracking, while giving quick information at a glance. For a tutorial, check out this great resource from Wyoming State Museum.


Because CAF headquarters is in charge of cataloging a large-scale inventory of artifacts across CAF museums, make sure and share your database with the CAF. This will ensure the CAF as a whole entity can ensure the integrity of all collections. The team at headquarters can also help to identify unique items that may require special support, and guarantee for their care.


Accepting donations of artifacts

Many well-intentioned veterans or their families are looking for public places to donate items of significance from their War experience. There are a few important things to remember when accepting donations… and the first is it’s ok to politely decline. It is reasonable to turn down a donation if it does not fit your objective; instead recommend other places to make the donation. Accept donations according to the story you are trying to tell with your museum and stick to your plan.


All donations that are made will become the property of the CAF. To avoid any possible complications or misunderstandings, donors should read and sign a gift agreement form. In the case of future family disputes, ownership of the property could be questioned and proper documentation will be essential. As always, please make sure to adhere to CAF policy in order to have the best experience possible.


Once you have accepted the donation, don’t forget to first add it to your inventory database to ensure your records are up to date. It will be important to take note of the origin of each item, as its historical context and original owner will be valuable information as you use the artifact to tell a particular story and draw your audience into the experience. This is also an important gesture of goodwill and fosters continued support of your unit’s efforts in the community.


Displaying items on loan

There may be instances when your new or growing museum may have the opportunity to display an item on loan, either an internal loan from CAF headquarters or a fellow CAF unit, or from an outside organization.


Because of our commitment to the longevity of our artifacts, internal loans from CAF’s collection are evaluated based on the quality of care and housing they will receive. Your unit will be asked to participate in a facility self-evaluation, followed by a visit from a CAF headquarters staff member to ensure the best possible experience for both parties.


When considering a loan from a source outside of the CAF, it will be necessary to document the loan comprehensively and ensure a defined time frame for the loan. 


Best practices for artifact preservation

Light is the adversary of preservation because it accelerates the aging and decay of artifacts. Fortunately, it is one of the easiest potential issues to address. Cover natural light sources or diminish their intensity with UV filters on bulbs.


Temperature and humidity must also be regulated. Temperatures too high can be more damaging than too low. Here are some goals to keep in mind, based on specific materials:

 Wood – 75° F, 45-50% relative humidity

 Metal – 72° F, 35-55% relative humidity

 Ceramics – 72° F, 40-60% relative humidity

 Paper & Books – 70° F, 45-60% relative humidity

 Textiles – 68° F, 50% relative humidity


Monitor for pests and mold. Quarantine new items added to your collections and keep a careful eye on susceptible items. Store and consume food in a designated space away from artifacts so as to not attract pests.


Conservation techniques should be followed to ensure the longevity of your items.

  • Wood can be dusted with a soft brush or dry cloth, but do not treat woods unless it is absolutely necessary to intervene to save the item.

  • Metal items may from patina as they age. This green or brown film is produced by oxidation over a long period, a natural protective mechanism that should not be cleaned or removed. Try to store these items in the driest part of your collection.

  • If ceramics are stable if in good shape, they can be cleaned in the same fashion as wood.

  • Paper and photos should be encapsulated in a substance that will allow for off gassing, such as Mylar, and stored flat.

  • Textiles should be padded with non-acidic paper and stored in the dark.


CAF tools and support

The museum experts at CAF headquarters are gladly available to assist you in proper interpretive planning for any exhibit that you are constructing; proper care and maintenance of your artifacts; document support and inventory assistance; and artifact identification.