Visit the CDC Museum in Atlanta!

CDC Museum in Atlanta- Wheat family

The CDC Museum in Atlanta shows you the history and process behind protecting our public health.  Many cool things to see, many of them things you won’t find elsewhere.  Photographs and front-line artifacts from ground zero of dangers you’ve only heard about in movies or the news.   Shown- The Messengers sculpture created by Zimbabwe artist, Lameck Bonjisi, who died of AIDS at 31.

“These are not statistics, ladies and gentlemen.

They’re flesh and blood!”  

–  JT Walsh in Outbreak

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The CDC Museum in Atlanta gives you the only behind the scenes look into the one of the most famous and interesting agencies in the world.  CDC (Then- Communicable Disease Center;  Today- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was created in 1946 with the primary mission to prevent the spread of malaria in the US.  Seated in Atlanta, Georgia, the deep South with its warm, humid climate was the heart of the malaria zone.  The CDC eliminated it from the US just 5 years later in ’51.  They continue to work around the world, sending teams into pandemics and outbreaks.  They’re the experts and lab scientists who come face to face with all the scary things we fear- ebola, typhus, plague, TB, dysentery, HIV/ AIDS, meningitis, encephalitis, Q fever, cholera, brain and flesh-eating infections, and hundreds more.  Many we don’t know or ever have to think about.  Globally and at home, they investigate and battle worldwide disease and health threats by helping to:

  • Educate– public, governments & healthcare agencies about public health dangers
  • Prevent– contraction, spread, complications 
  • Prepare & respond– emergency planning & disaster aid, quarantine management 
  • Control & minimize effects & spread
  • Study– transmission, causes, treatments & prevention 
  • Tracking & monitoring of diseases and dangers
  • And, if possible, Eradicate specific diseases, completely 
CDC Museum in Atlanta overlook

Overlook of a portion of the CDC Museum.  Exhibits cover their wide reach at fighting & preventing health threats.

But Did You Know???

You know about the major, deadly diseases the CDC works to protect us from.  But they study and work to combat a host of other dangers, too- natural, biological, chemical, radiological & nuclear.  Their work includes studies, work & prevention involving:


  • Partnering with NASA’s space program to protect us from space contaminants & bacteria potentially present in interplanetary specimens brought back to Earth.  Also, in preventing transfer of Earth pathogens into space.
  • Investigating health effects of disasters, such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the Mount St. Helen’s volcanic eruption.  They arrived within hours of the September 11th attacks to deliver medications from their stockpile to NY.  They monitored protective equipment and air quality during months of clean-up.  Also conducting decades long health studies on the people impacted by TMI and the 9/11 attacks.  
  • Acquiring the Strategic National Stockpile of drugs, vaccinations & supplies for emergency health events.  
  • Training & developing a Laboratory Response Network (LRN)– a network of partnering labs trained & capable of rapid response to biological & chemical threats, and other health emergency events.    
  • Water, Food and Animal Borne Illnesses– infections from animals such as flu or the lung infection histoplasmosis, swimming with brain-eating amoeba & drinking water purity & protection, and food poisoning outbreaks
  • Environmental & Occupational Exposure & Dangers– Black Lung Disease, lead poisoning, anthrax,  poisoning, cancer clusters, carbon monoxide poisoning, workplace homicide
  • Childhood dangers– birth defects, autism, diseases & vulnerability, vaccination safety, and cancers, FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome in fetuses exposed to alcohol), violence & homicide
  • Common health concerns– such as obesity & malnutrition, dental disease, cholesterol, smoking, drug & alcohol abuse, violence   

Once Deadly & Feared- Some Big Wins for the CDC & Humanity:

  • Malaria– eliminated in the US in 1951.
  • Smallpox– The last case of the horrific, disfiguring & deadly smallpox in the US was eradicated in 1949.  It was eliminated throughout the entire world in 1980.  I won’t include a picture, but look it up if you have the stomach for it.  Dreadful disease that thank God was conquered.  It was a miserable disease and killed 3 out of 10 who had it.
  • Polio The devastating paralyzing & crippling disease, sometimes deforming, and sometimes deadly.  No cases have originated in the US since 1979.  I know people who suffered from polio as kids that still suffer lingering affects, today.  
Bacteria contaminated water from Legionairre's Disease outbreak

Actual contaminated water from the infamous Legionnaire’s convention outbreak in Philadelphia.  It left 34 dead and hundreds sick.  From a hotel air conditioning system, it contains the deadly Legionella pneumophilia bacteria.  In 1976, it caused a rapid onset of severe pneumonia with fevers up to 107.5* F.  The mystery illness was later named Legionairre’s Disease.  It was later linked to 3 more deaths & illnesses, 2 years before, and other locations, since.

Named for the longest serving director of the CDC, the CDC Museum is small, but well done, a Smithsonian affiliate.  What you do see is unique and very interesting.  It’s short enough that little kids won’t have time to get too restless.  Our kids were young and they all did great.  Older kids who read the plaques will quickly realize how cool this place is!  The museum shows the history of the agency and their trail-blazing efforts to pioneer disease identification, investigation & control.  Exhibits documenting their battle to conquer the most feared and well known.  They show the scientific study and detective work that goes into investigating the many mysteries and unknowns of illness and outbreaks.  They exhibit documents, notes, charts, hand-drawn maps, & photos from major epidemic investigations.  Four of the exhibits change periodically.

Some of the CDC Museum Highlights:

    • 1979 postcard to the Director of the CDC from a field doctor proclaiming the last case of smallpox in Somalia, a year before it was eradicated worldwide.  Also a pressurized pedo jet used for rapid smallpox vaccinations in the field.
  • Ebola notepad from a CDC doctor who was on site for the very 1st Ebola outbreak in 1976.  In his notes, he planned the supplies they were going to need and the animal tests to be conducted.  Also containers that stored and carried samples of the terrifying smallpox & ebola viruses.
    • Quarantine manual and field kit
    • Iron lung– mechanical respirators that victims of polio had to live in  for a period (sometimes years & decades) just to breathe.  We’ve seen several of these in museums, but if you may have never seen one at all, unless you were alive during the polio epidemic’s peak in the 1940’s & ’50s. 
    • Quac (Quaker arm circumference) stick from the Biafra famine of 1968.  Used to measure a child’s arm and quickly assess malnutrition.  
    • A large electron microscope that was used to study specimens of the new, unknown & unnamed (now- HIV/ AIDS) virus, and West Nile virus, SARS Coronavirus & others.  It magnifies microbes up to 500,000 times.  The image can then be magnified 1 million times!
    • Typed ‘recipe’ for the Smallpox vaccination used in the field in 1967 in Nigeria.  
    • Authentic African & Indian smallpox Shapona statuettes. In the 1960s & ’70s, WHO (World Health Organization) and CDC vaccination teams encountered resistance in Nigeria from Shapona worshippers.  They thought that being vaccinated or assisting the efforts were making war on their own deities and would risk their wrath. 
    • Exhibit on their investigation of the infamous Atlanta Child Murders of 29 kids from 1979- 1981.  Not only investigated by the FBI, the CDC analyzes ‘homicide clusters’ and focuses on violence prevention.  The FBI looks to solve the crime.  The CDC examined the traits of the victims, behavior patterns, and environmental conditions so they could identify risk factors of becoming a victim, predict targets, high risk communities, and develop protective measures to avoid it.  Similar to the FBI Behavorial Unit’s Victimology.  Wayne Williams was imprisoned for the murders.  
    • Some of the equipment they used at the 9/11 attack site.  They detail how they responded and, also, how the attacks changed Bioterrorism planning and response, forever. 
  • AIDS epidemic– an ELISA test plate with blood samples that are yellow positive due to the presence of the HIV virus.
  • Vintage educational materials from public health campaigns through the years
  • CDC samples of Mount St. Helen’s volcanic rock & ash from the 1980 volcanic eruption that killed 57+ and devastated the area.  It was the worst volcanic event in US history.
  • An exhibit on the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study (discussed in my video)
  • A favorite!  Kids love this one, but I’m not going to lie.  I was giddy to put these on!  I’m a big Outbreak and other pandemic movies fan and Science lover!  Get family selfies wearing BSL 4 lab suits (Biological Safety Level 4)- the blue hazmat “space suits” worn when working around the highest level, most dangerous pathogens known (ebola, Lassa fever, smallpox, etc…)   You’ve seen these in pretty much every movie that shows the CDC.  Seeing someone in these signifies major trouble.  This is your chance to wear one without working in a CDC lab!  Also, kids can sit with a giant mosquito.  Makes for great pix!  

Try on BSL (Biosafety Level 4) “space suits” used by CDC scientists and epidemiologists when handling the worst viruses, bacteria and pathogens on Earth.  These are used in labs and when walking into areas of outbreak for the likes of ebola, smallpox, lassa fever, and deadly chemical toxins.  

What the Wheats think of the CDC Museum:

I was beyond thrilled to go here!  I love Science, love museums, and have always been fascinated with the CDC and pandemic books and movies (and a few zombie/ apocalyptic ones, too).  Going to this place, even just walking into the CDC, honestly, was a dream come true and I’m so glad they made a museum available to the public!  It’s little known because their goal isn’t tourism.  This is just a public education aside.  So, most people have no idea this little gem exists!  I only wish it were bigger and included more artifacts, and a gift shop.  But, what they have is awesome!  I hope they expand, one day.  Atlanta has so many great tourist sites to offer like our visit to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site.  But, you absolutely should not leave Atlanta without visiting the CDC museum.  Even if your toddlers drive you crazy and you can’t stay long.  It’s free, so you have nothing to lose and can actually say you were at the CDC!  A 100 on the coolness factor!  Awesomeness, do not miss!  

Good the Know:

  • Admission is free and is strictly for the museum only.  All other parts of the CDC are off limits.
  • Documents– Government ID’s are required for people over 18.  Passports are required for non US citizens.
  • Parking is on-site & free.
  • Security– At the parking security check-point, your vehicle will undergo a thorough inspection by guards.  
  • Photography– You can take photos inside the museum only.  Nowhere else in the CDC, including none of the outside of the building.  
  • Hours–  They are closed weekends & federal holidays.  They are open weekdays, only!  M- F 9-5, Thursday open till 7p.
  • Reservations– are required for groups over 10.  
  • Time– The visit will take about 1 1/2- 2 hours.
  • Food- none on-site for the public, but Atlanta is packed with restaurant choices. 
  •  Kids- The photos and content aren’t too graphic and the reading materials not alarming.  The photos of smallpox victims are disturbing, but are small and higher on the wall.  We choose to educate our kids on medical realities and history, so it can be a lesson, too, depending on your children’s ages.  In general, the museum focuses more on the investigation, containment & cure, rather than documenting the goriness or fearfulness of disease.  They have fun, scavenger booklets for kids to do at the museum.
  • Shop– There is no gift shop or Visitor Center.  The museum is small and tucked in the Lower Level.  Tourism isn’t their focus, it is just an education tool for them.  
  • Guided tours are available to be scheduled for groups of up to 30.  


David J Sencer CDC Museum  

1600 Clifton Road N,

Atlanta, Georgia



Left- Sit-down with the pesky, uninvited guest.                                               Right- Germophobia!

Some movies & shows that feature the CDC (not family-friendly due to language & graphic content):





  • ContagionThis was ok.  Some scenes very rough.  I think Outbreak is much better.

For more information:

Eradicated disease

also Insider

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Visit the CDC Museum in Atlanta!