Lemelson Center Celebrates 20 Years with New Exhibits and the Return of Spark!Lab
The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will open its first permanent public home—the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation—at the National Museum of American History July 1. The Hall will feature “Places of Invention,” a signature 3,500 square-foot exhibition examining hotspots of invention throughout history; Draper Spark!Lab, a hands-on space for children aged 6 to 12; and “Inventive Minds,” a small gallery that will introduce the work of the Lemelson Center.
Founded in 1995 by prolific American inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, the Lemelson Center leads the study of invention history at the Smithsonian. The exciting and original exhibitions and learning spaces that occupy the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation physically represent the culmination of 20 years of intense research into the creative process of invention and innovation and of the development of novel educational theory and content.
“The Lemelson Center was founded on the idea—shared by Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson, the Smithsonian and myself—that the American creative and inventive spirit, now and in the past, is both a deeply cherished national characteristic and the energy source of a powerful economic engine,” said Art Molella, director of the center. “Visitors to the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation will leave with a better understanding of our rich invention history, the knowledge that they and their communities are or can be inventive and the inspiration to shape their future for the better.”
“Places of Invention” will discover the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems and sometimes failed—all in the pursuit of something new. The exhibition features the following stories:
- the rise of the personal computer in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and ‘80s;
- hip-hop’s birth in the Bronx, NY, in the 1970s;
- cardiac innovations in Medical Alley, Minn., in the 1950s;
- precision manufacturing in Hartford, Conn., in the late 1800s;
- Technicolor in Hollywood, Calif., in the 1930s;
- and clean-energy innovations in Fort Collins, Colo., happening today.
A large interactive map at the heart of the exhibition will grow exponentially over time as visitors—both in the gallery and online at http://invention.si.edu/map—contribute their own stories of innovative communities. A companion book will be available through the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press June 30.
Draper Spark!Lab, a hands-on invention experience, reopens in a new, open and flexible 2,000-square-foot gallery with the look and feel of an inventor’s workspace. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 will create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment and work their way through the invention process from start to finish. Intentionally interdisciplinary, activities in Spark!Lab are organized around rotating themes—such as the opening theme, “Things that Roll”—that allow for a broad and diverse look at invention and the museum’s collections and ensure regular visitors have something new to explore. One of the most popular attractions at the museum during its initial run from 2008 through 2011, Spark!Lab retains its devotion to meaningful, open-ended and hands-on experiences; its emphasis on the invention process, now demonstrated through inventor profiles and objects from the national collections; and its belief that everyone, particularly children, is inventive.
“Inventive Minds” introduces visitors to the work of the Lemelson Center, particularly its efforts to document diverse American inventors. Brief video interviews, complemented by archival materials and artifacts, put the focus on 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 Jerome and Dorothy in founding the Center in 1995.
The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation will be amplified by public programs that bring together the public, historians and inventors to foster a better understanding of the role of invention in American history, such as “Innovative Lives,” where inventors share their inspirations and invention process with children; the center’s annual “New Perspectives on Invention and Innovation” symposium; and daily museum theater programs.
The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation is a signature part of the National Museum of American History’s 45,000-square-foot space centered on the theme of innovation, where the museum is transforming how its audiences will experience history. Spark!Lab is open daily excepting Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation and the galleries that reside within it are made possible by The Lemelson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Intel and the Ford Motor Company Fund.
About the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
The Lemelson Center has led the study of invention and innovation at the Smithsonian since 1995. The center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation and located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit invention.si.edu.
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