When the Cody Firearms Museum first opened its doors in its current location at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming back in 1991, a gallon of gas cost $1.14 and George H. W. Bush occupied the Oval Office. To say that a lot has changed since then would be an understatement.
Museum design across the board, regardless of content, tended to display lots and lots of whatever it was they collected in giant glass cases with very little context. Basically, it was just stuff sitting in giant aquariums.
In fact, in 2017, a bunch of museum professionals gathered in Cody (including yours truly) and it was there that the term “gunquarium” was coined. The definition is “a giant display case full of guns and devoid of information.”
When the Cody Firearms Museum reopened its doors on July 6, 2019, after undergoing a $12 million renovation, it was obvious that curator Ashley Hlebinsky and assistant curator Danny Michael had worked very hard to ensure that the term “gunquarium” no longer applied in their 40,000 square foot exhibit space.
After touring the galleries last week, I can confirm that they have indeed done away with the old ways and have created a thoroughly modern and striking museum devoted to the history of all things firearms unlike any other in the world.
“We are so excited to open the new Cody Firearms Museum,” Hlebinksy says. “Striking a balance between exhibition and interactivity, the new CFM serves both enthusiast and non-gun audiences in a way that firearms history museums have not done in the past.”
The Cody Firearms Museum of 2019 is nothing like the one of 1991. As Hlebinksy said, the museum now boasts a number of interactive exhibits.
Visitors can work the action on flintlock and percussion pistols; feel the difference between a heavy “New York trigger pull” and a crisp competition trigger pull; explore different kinds of rifle sights; line up fired bullets to check striations under a microscope like a forensic ballistics analyst; and more.
For the people who loved the old museum (and there are plenty), don’t fret. Many favorite design aspects have been incorporated into the new galleries. You can still walk through (and smell) the gun shop; stand under the massive Winchester factory stone; and explore pull-out displays on the lower level, which showcase the collecting aspect of firearms.
All told, more than 10,000 of the museum’s 30,000 guns and artifacts are on display. Being able to have fully one-third of the collection on display is a fantastic benchmark for a museum of any kind. Facilities with collections that size are often lucky if they can get 10 percent in front of visitors.
Whether you’ve been plenty of times before or are considering making your first trek to the land of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, now is the perfect time to do it. Ashley and Danny did a wonderful job renovating the museum, ensuring that it will continue to be the most-visited of the five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.