The Lemelson Center advances scholarship about the history of invention and innovation through workshops, fellowships, research opportunities, documentation activities, and publications.
Invention, Sport, Technology, and Society Workshop
The athletics industry is under pressure to develop new technologies and other innovations that provide competitive advantages. Likewise, inventions change how the public engages, consumes, and participates in sport. In September, we launched a multi-year initiative to explore the relationship between invention and sport with a two-day workshop featuring scholars, athletes, inventors, policy makers, sport industry leaders, and museum and education professionals. Sessions considered the invention and use of new equipment, and changes to physical training, medical technologies, and nutrition, while also exploring the key questions of whois involved in the invention and creation of technologies for sports and who decides when the use of a new technology is beneficial, fair, legal, and ethical.
Venture Capital Initiative
In 2016, the Center received generous seed funding from three pioneering venture capitalists—Thomas Baruch, the late William Bowes, and William Draper III—to launch a documentation and programming initiative on the history and contemporary impact of venture capital for the American innovation ecosystem. In 2017, the Center advanced the initiative in three ways, including a joint acquisition with Stanford University of materials from the 2011 documentary film, Something Ventured. The acquisition includes raw video footage and interview transcripts from several pioneering venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs they financed. Second, the Center recorded new oral history interviews with semiconductor laser inventor and angel investor Don Scifres and with biotech investor Sam Colella. Third, the Center introduced a new “Sell It” station in Draper Spark!Lab where visitors can record a short video “pitching” their invention ideas. The Center will continue to expand its work in this area through additional oral history recordings and by developing public programs to help our audiences appreciate the crucial role that VCs play in the process of innovation.
Video Game Pioneers Archive
In the duration of a single generation, video games evolved from a fringe activity to a central technology in education, simulation, and entertainment. The window of opportunity to capture the developmental arc of this simultaneously technical and creative industry through first-hand recollections and perspectives of its founders is narrowing. In close collaboration with industry leaders, we are undertaking in-depth video oral history recordings and developing innovative ideas for public engagement using the materials. In 2017, we recorded interviews with Steve “Slug” Russell and Peter Samson, who coded the game Spacewar!; Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari; Don Daglow, who wrote the first baseball game and numerous others; and Brenda Laurel, one of the first women in the video game industry who also created Rockett’s New Schools.
The Lemelson Center supports the work of scholars by offering residential fellowships, travel-to-collections grants, and an annual archival internship. We also host and advise visiting scholars who have other financial support.
The Arthur Molella Distinguished Fellowship is endowed by the Lemelson Foundation to honor the scholarly contributions in the history of invention and innovation in American society by the Lemelson Center’s founding director emeritus, Dr. Arthur P. Molella.
- The 2016-2017 Molella Distinguished Fellow was Dr. Rayvon Fouché, Director of the American Studies Program and Associate Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. His research project was “The Machine in the Game: Technology, Design, and the Evolution of Contemporary Sport.”
- The 2017-2018 Molella Distinguished Fellow is Dr. Stephen Mihm, Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia. He is carrying out research on “The Search for Standards: Modernity, Markets, and the Order of Things.”
In 2017, we also welcomed the following Lemelson Center Fellows in Residence:
- Spring Greeney, PhD candidate, History, University of Wisconsin-Madison; “What Clean Smells Like: An Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1845-1992.”
- Kendra Smith-Howard, PhD, Associate Professor, History, University of Albany (SUNY); “The Messy History of Cleaning Up in America, 1900-2000.”
- Adelheid “Heidi” Voskuhl, PhD, Associate Professor, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania; “Innovation as Institution: Machine Ages, Theories of Government, and the ‘Consequences’ of technology in Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras (c. 1890 to 2000).”
- Jacob Ward, PhD candidate, History and Science & Technology Studies, University College London and Science Museum London; “Networks within Networks: Connecting Transatlantic Histories of Tele-communications from 1960.”
- Heather Toomey Zimmerman, PhD, Associate Professor, Education, Pennsylvania State University; “Designing Educational Supports for Family Learning during Spark!Lab Inventing Activities.”
Travel-to-Collections Awards provide travel funds for research on the history of invention and innovation using the extensive holdings of NMAH’s Archives Center and curatorial divisions. In 2017, we hosted the following awardees:
- Sarah A. Bell, PhD, Assistant Professor, Digital Media, Michigan Technological University, researched “From Speak & Spell to Siri: A Media History of Voice Synthesis.”
- Donna J. Drucker, PhD, Instructor, English, Technische Universitat Darmstadt, explored “Materializing Gender through Contraceptive Technology in the United States.”
- Robin Lynch, PhD candidate, Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University, examined collections related to “Locating the Visual Research and Development: The allure of Creativity.”
- Elizabeth Neswald, PhD, Associate Professor, History of Science and Technology, Brock University, researched “Material Cultures of Diabetes Management.”
The annual Lemelson Center Summer Archival Internship offers an opportunity for a graduate student to work on invention-related collections held in the NMAH Archives Center. The 2017 Summer Archival intern was Sara Wheeler. Her projects included: Ralph H. Baer Papers (addenda), InBae Yoon Papers, Peter J. Bier Papers, Washington Society of Engineers Records, Lloyd F. Rader Papers, and Atlas Imperial Diesel Engine Company Records.
In addition to our weekly blog, Lemelson Center team members also published numerous peer-reviewed articles on specific topics in invention and innovation.
Two new book proposals were accepted to the Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series, published by the MIT Press. Co-edited by Joyce Bedi, Arthur Daemmrich, and Arthur Molella, the series advances scholarship in the history of technology, engineering, science, architecture, the arts, and related fields and disseminates it to a general interest audience.
- The Innovator Imperative, edited by Matthew Wisnioski, Eric S. Hintz, and Marie Stettler Kleine, unpacks what motivates contemporary efforts to train innovators, why there is an emerging critique of this imperative, and what work is being done to reconcile these views.
- Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention, by Kathryn D. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, explores a vital but overlooked chapter in the Hubble Space Telescope’s story—the period from 1984 to 1990 during which she was part of a small band of engineers who turned general notions of on-orbit maintenance into concrete tools, training materials, and procedures.
The Lemelson Center also encourages scholarly publishing by its own staff:
- Joyce Bedi, “Movies Meet the Rainbow,” in Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture, eds. Regina Lee Blaszczyk and Uwe Spiekermann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 133-148.
- Arthur Daemmrich, “Pharmaceutical Manufacturing in America: A Brief History,” Pharmacy in History 59 (2017), 63-72.
- Arthur Daemmrich, “Invention, Innovations Systems, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Technology and Innovation 18 (2017), 257-265.
- Eric Hintz, “The ‘Monopoly’ Hearings, Its Critics, and the Limits of Patent Reform in the New Deal,” in Capital Gains:Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America, ed. Richard R. John and Kim Phillips-Fein (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 61-79.