Fact Check

A Museum on Every Corner

Rumor: There are more museums in the United States than McDonald's and Starbucks outlets combined.

Published April 5, 2015


Claim:   There are more museums in the United States than McDonald's and Starbucks outlets combined.


Example:   [Collected via email, April 2015]


Origins:   With America's expanding waistline and the exaggerated belief that there is a "Starbucks on every corner," it's easy to understand why many people doubt the following statistic about there being more museums in the United States than McDonald's and Starbucks outlets combined:

There are roughly 11,000 Starbucks locations in the United States, and about 14,000 McDonald's restaurants. But combined, the two chains don't come close to the number of museums in the U.S., which stands at a whopping 35,000.

This statistic is taken from the Museum Universe Data File (MUDF), compiled by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). That file of "known museums in the United States" encompasses some 35,144 institutions, making this statistic literally true ... albeit for a much more expansive definition of "museum" than most laypeople would employ.

The 35,114 institutions comprising the IMLS' list include museums and "related organizations" include aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, art museums, children's museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks:

According to IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth, nearly 50% of the institutions counted in the organization's database are historical societies and sites:

Americans love their museums. Museums of all types — 35,000 strong — are a vital part of the American cultural and educational landscape. They are places where Americans go to pursue the discovery of art, history, science, technology, and the natural world. With 16,880 historical societies and historic preservation organizations alone, we can see that the preservation of history and culture is a passion that starts at the grassroots level. At IMLS we are proud to trumpet the impact of Americas museums at the federal level.

Although many of us would probably not consider a botanical garden or a historical society to be a "museum," the IMLS is the U.S. agency that is "the primary source of federal funding for the nation's museums," and their tally is the one the United States government relies upon in order to "conduct policy research, analysis, and data collection to extend and improve the Nation's museum, library and information services."

The IMLS-compiled total of 35,144 museums is indeed more than the number of McDonald's and Starbucks outlets in the United States combined. McDonald's operates more than 36,000 restaurants in 100 different countries around the world, but according to a report published by the Daily Meal, less than half of those restaurants, about 15,000, are in the United States. Similarly, Starbucks has about 21,500 locations around the world, but only 12,000 of them are in the United States.

Combined, Starbucks and McDonald's have about 27,000 locations in the United States (as of 2014), which is approximately 8,000 less than the number of museums in the U.S.

Last updated:   5 April 2015


    Ingraham, Christopher.

  "There Are More Museums in the U.S. Than There Are Starbucks and McDonald's — Combined."

    Washington Post   13 June 2014.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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