These life masks of Abraham Lincoln’s face are housed at the National Portrait Gallery, but replicas can be made using 3-D printers. (SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION/Via Associated Press)

The Smithsonian Institution has launched a 3-D scanning and printing project to make more of its 137 million objects accessible to people worldwide.

A small team has begun creating three-dimensional models of key objects in the collection of the world’s largest museum complex. Some of the first 3-D scans include the Wright brothers’ first airplane, Amelia Earhart’s flight suit, casts of President Abraham Lincoln’s face and a Revolutionary War gunboat. Less familiar objects include a former slave’s horn, a missionary’s gun from the 1800s and a woolly mammoth fossil from the Ice Age. They are pieces of history that some people might hear about but rarely see or touch.

An online 3-D viewer (at offers people a closer look at the artifacts. The data can be downloaded, re-created with a 3-D printer and used in schools to illustrate lessons in history, art and science. The Smithsonian is also experimenting with 3-D imagery to help bring dinosaurs or historical figures to life in an exhibit.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have Abraham Lincoln walking around talking to people?” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “It can be done.”

— Associated Press