Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation
The Lemelson Center is located at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation is located on the Museum's first floor in its Innovation Wing.
The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation features Places of Invention, a new exhibition from the Lemelson Center; Spark!Lab, our hands-on invention workshop for children and families; and Inventive Minds, a small gallery highlighting the documentation work done by the Lemelson Center.
The National Museum of American History is open daily, except Dec. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Draper Spark!Lab is open daily, excepting Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on visiting the National Museum of American History and the Lemelson Center, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu/visit.
What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks a surge of invention and innovation? The answer may surprise you. Places of Invention takes visitors on a journey through time and place to meet people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed—all in the pursuit of something new. See what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together.
Draper Spark!Lab is where museum visitors become inventors. The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation invites children between the ages of six and 12 to create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment and invent. Activities for children and families incorporate traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art, museum and creativity. Draper Spark!Lab is open daily, excepting Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Inventive Minds, a gallery within the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation and adjacent to Places of Invention, introduces visitors to the mission and work of the Lemelson Center, particularly our efforts to document invention. Brief video interviews, complemented by archival materials and artifacts, put the focus on the inventors and their processes, telling their stories in their own words. The gallery also highlights the inventive creativity of Jerome Lemelson, and the vision of Lemelson and his wife Dorothy in founding the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian in 1995.
The theme of Inventive Minds changes annually, with new materials rotated in every 4 months.
- July 2015–August 2016: Inventive Minds: Everyone Is Inventive featured the stories of diverse historic and contemporary inventors.
- September 2016–August 2017: Inventive Minds: Inventing Green featured the stories of historic and contemporary inventors whose work on socially-responsible technologies creates profound change for the common good.
- September 2017–August 2018: Inventive Minds: Sporting Inventions featured stories of inventors who changed the way Americans play.
- September 2018–January 2020: Inventive Minds: Women Inventors features a selection of stories illustrating the creativity of women inventors over more than a century.
- February 2020–March 2022: Inventive Minds: Immigrant Inventors features stories drawn from the collections of the National Museum of American History that attest to the creativity and determination represented by diverse immigrant inventors over more than a century.
Solar on the Line opened on 29 November 2016 on the 3rd Floor Center of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. For centuries, inventors and entrepreneurs marveled at the idea of harnessing sunlight for the betterment of humanity. This exhibition introduces visitors to the history of solar energy use in the US and explores the innovation and technology behind solar power as a renewable energy resource. Solar on the Line is the collaborative creation of the National Museum of American History and the Lemelson Center. The exhibiton closed on 4 March 2018.
Innovations in Defense: Artificial Intelligence and the Challenge of Cybersecurity
April 2016–September 2017
Hacked servers. Phishing scams. Computer viruses, trojan horses, and worms. Spam. Adware, spyware, and botnets. Not all innovations seek to benefit society. In 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a two-year competition to invent artificial intelligence systems that could take over the painstaking and time-consuming work of searching through billions of lines of code for vulnerabilities or intrusions. "Mayhem," the first artificial intelligence cyber defense system designed specifically to thwart attacks on our increasingly interconnected—and vulnerable—devices, was the prize-winning system.
Pause and Play: A Pop-Up Gallery in the Lemelson Hall of Invention
April 21, 2012 – Labor Day, 2012
Pause and Play, a temporary gallery, offered visitors a new space in the museum to see popular culture and math-related objects from the collections and partake in hands-on activities. Displays featured entertainment artifacts from the 1950s and early 1960s including a Superman costume, a Howdy Doody marionette, the Lone Ranger’s mask and silver bullet, puppets from Captain Kangaroo, and characters from Sam and Friends, the precursor to The Muppets, including the first Kermit the Frog. Music items on display include one of Patsy Cline’s costumes; fan magazines featuring Elvis, the Beatles and Alvin and the Chipmunks; and 45-RPM records highlighting Little Richard, the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, and Brenda Lee.
A case located at the entrance to the gallery featured objects used to teach children arithmetic from the late 1890s to today. Objects included flash cards, early calculators and other math games and toys.
Visitors to the gallery were invited to watch 1950s and 1960s era commercials, try their hand at drawing their own comics on a “graffiti” wall, and play with toys from the same era, including Mr. Potato Head and Etch-A-Sketch. Visitors could also share with the Museum their childhood experiences by contributing family photos to the Pause and Play Flickr site.
Jerome Lemelson: Toying with Invention
April 2008 – May 2012
Jerome Lemelson earned more than 600 patents, and about 70 of them describe toys—inflatable toys, jumping toys, toys with propellers, toys that run on tracks, target games, dolls, and more. In fact, Lemelson’s first patent, issued in 1953, was for a new kind of propeller beanie. The objects in this case were examples of Lemelson’s toy ideas and showed some of the stages in inventing a new plaything. For many inventors, sketching ideas in a notebook is a first step in the creative process. Prototypes, or models, demonstrate and test how the idea works. Patents are legal documents that describe inventions in words and drawings and give inventors exclusive rights to make and sell their work for several years.
Invention at Play Traveling Exhibition
July 19, 2002 – November 27, 2011
The award-winning Invention at Play traveling exhibition (2002-2011) explored how play connects to the creative impulse of both historical and contemporary inventors. Grouped in thematic clusters—“Recognize the Unusual,” “Borrow from Nature,” “Jump the Tracks,” “Keep Making it Better,” and “Many Heads Are Better than One”—the exhibition featured a diverse range of inventors, famous and little-known, whose habits of mind and skills began in childhood play. Through intriguing personal stories, videos, artifacts, and interactive experiences, visitors enjoyed learning how play fosters inventiveness, experiencing their own playful and inventive abilities, and understanding how children’s play parallels processes used by inventors. Invention at Play closed at NMAH in 2011.
The original 3,500-square-foot Invention at Play exhibition opened at NMAH for a six-month run in 2002, then traveled to nine museums around the country before returning to NMAH, where it closed in 2011. A 1,700-square-foot version of the exhibition also traveled to 13 museums in the US and Canada before ending its tour at The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA.
Hot Spot of Invention in the Lemelson Center Showcase
November 2009 – May 2011
This showcase highlighted how three World War II-era labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology helped transform Cambridge, MA, into a “hot spot of invention”—a place that sparks and supports innovation by networks of creative people. Featured labs included Harold Edgerton’s strobe lab, which developed the stroboscope to virtually “stop” the motion of operating machinery with short, intense flashes of light; the Radiation Laboratory, or “Rad Lab,” that was created by the National Defense Research Committee to develop radar; and Charles Stark Draper’s instruments lab where Draper worked on improving airplane navigation and invented a new type of gunsight that was mounted directly on a ship’s guns. These labs were integral to making M.I.T. a premier place of invention and illustrate the wider transition that began in the 1930s to augment M.I.T.’s primary focus on practice and engineering by raising theory and science to an equal footing. This small exhibit was a prototype for the Center's larger Places of Invention exhibit.
Restless Inventor: Solomon “Sol” Adler in the Archives Center Case
June 1, 2010 – August 31, 2010
The case display outside the Museum’s Archives Center featured the life work of Solomon “Sol” Adler, an American inventor. Adler is best known for his work with Brother International Corporation in Japan designing post-WWII sewing machines, but he also designed and created several other inventions. The case display included four sewing machines and their design sketches, stitch samples and literature on Brother’s sewing machines, as well as some of Adler’s designs for other inventions, such as a fountain pen with ink bladder and a correlating device designed for automobiles.
Sporting Invention in the Lemelson Center Showcase
Spring 1999 – Winter 2001 and November 2008 – October 2009
Sporting Invention traced the development of sports inventions through drawings and prototypes, revealing the little-known stories of invention behind familiar sports equipment and also highlighted aspects of universal design in sports technology development. Objects featured in the case included the skis and tennis racquets invented by Howard Head and an accessible snowboard for people with disabilities developed by student inventors at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.
Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson's Legacy
May 2006 – 2007
A collaborative exhibition with other Museum staff, this exhibition showed how Jim Henson's work transformed the art and the science of puppetry from simple, cloth, hands-and-rod Muppets to the complex figures of the 1982 film The Dark Crystal.
Inventing Ourselves in the Lemelson Center Showcase
February 6, 2004 – May 7, 2006
Inventing Ourselves explored technologies designed to augment, enhance, and repair the human body. The "design" display case examined the creative tension between devices designed to mimic the body's appearance and those that attempt to replicate the body's function. It featured a wooden peg leg from the 19th century, a modern Flex-Foot prosthetic limb, and other artificial hands, legs, and feet. The "performance" display presented marathon running as a case study in inspiring new inventions, from shoes to heart monitors, including a wearable "Smart Shirt" prototype.
Nobel Voices: Celebrating 100 Years of the Nobel Prize
April 26, 2001 – October, 31, 2001
Nobel Voices explored the motivation and vision of Nobel laureates and the history of Alfred Nobel and his prize. It featured personal video interviews of laureates, candid photographic portraits and original artifacts, including Albert Einstein's pipe and William Faulkner's tweed jacket and typewriter. Visitors to the exhibition passed through eight sections telling the story of the Nobel Prize and those who have achieved it.
Through 2008, touring versions also traveled around the world, to cities including New York City; Bonn, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; Warsaw, Poland; Chennai, India; Cairo, Egypy; and Monterrey and Saltillo, Mexico.
Who Invented the Environment? in the Lemelson Center Showcase
November 1998 – August 1999
This exhibit explored American society's evolving perspective on the environment. Artifacts representing the ideal wilderness portrayed by artists and writers included a rare hand-tinted daguerreotype of Niagara Falls in the 1860s and an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park. Ecological reality, on the other hand, was revealed through scientific images and instruments, from the famous "spaceship Earth" photograph taken by an astronaut to tools for measuring air and water quality.
Color Sells in the Lemelson Center Showcase
November 1997 – October 1998
How often do you decide not to buy something if it doesn't come in the "right" color? Do you ever wonder about the inventions that made that color possible in the first place? This showcase exhibit examined the connection between art and technology through the ways in which inventions in color have been used by industrial designers and advertisers, all to cash in on the fact that color sells.
From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar
November 1996 – October 1997
Amplifying the sound of a guitar by means of electricity involved many inventors, makers, and players working since the 1920s to develop, design, and popularize a louder instrument. The exhibition featured an array of guitars, including the Rickenbacker "Frying Pan" prototype, Les Paul's Log, a Fender Stratocaster, and a Gibson Flying V, among many other models reflecting technological and cultural changes in the United States through today. The exhibition was presented in collaboration with The Chinery Collection.
Everyday Inventions in the Lemelson Center Showcase
November 1995 – October 1996
The Lemelson Center's inaugural showcase exhibit featured patent models and artifacts from the Museum's collections representing "everyday" inventions used for home, work, and play.