Like other creative individuals, inventors generate preliminary or draft inventions—prototypes--in the course of their work. Although it is commonly known that inventors use prototypes during their creative work, there has been little systematic study as to what roles these models play in the invention process. Moreover, because prototypes can be difficult and expensive to preserve, museums and archives need to know more about prototypes in order to determine which ones may be appropriate for future research, teaching, and exhibition.
In response to these concerns, the Lemelson Center held a day-long workshop in September 2006 to investigate the ways in which inventors use prototypes in the course of developing new technology. The meeting was the first in a series of workshops designed to explore where documentation is created during the invention process . This workshop brought together a team of seven specialists who viewed prototypes from a variety of perspectives. This report summarizes the insights and recommendations of the expert team. Among the report’s findings are the following highlights:
- inventors create prototypes to solve problems quickly and stay ahead of the competition;
- inventors rely on prototypes since they often learn by looking, touching, and manipulating objects;
- inventors use prototypes not only for thinking but also for communicating with collaborators, clients, customers, and other groups. A critical part of the innovation process is showing potential end-users prototypes in order to ascertain how they will use a device;
- because prototypes are often destroyed or cannibalized in the creative process, it is important to encourage inventors to save them so that prototypes can later be used to document the development of the technology and the invention process;
- while prototypes themselves may not hold all the answers about the invention process, they can be effectively used as primary sources that generate a multitude of questions about existing technologies and materials, user feedback, function, and performance, which can aid in documentation.
This report concludes with several recommendations for the Lemelson Center’s efforts to develop best practices for documenting the invention process. Specifically, it suggests that the Center should develop guidelines for collecting both prototypes and supporting documentation as well as establish methods for conducting oral history interviews with inventors.
Need and Background
Walk into the studio of any artist and one of the first things that you may notice are the numerous paintings or sculptures lying about. Some pieces are finished, others are on the easel being worked, some are in progress, and others appear to be dead-ends. Some may also be preliminary sketches used in planning a work of art while others may be experiments with colors and materials. All of these pieces of art in the artist’s studio reveal to us that the creative process means experimenting and manipulating lots of alternative versions.
Like artists, inventors generate preliminary or draft inventions in the course of their work. Frequently, these draft inventions take the form of three-dimensional artifacts and are called by a variety of names—mock-up, test model, patent model, or most commonly, prototype. Just as we expect lots of paintings in the studio, so we are not surprised when we see an inventor’s workshop or laboratory littered with prototypes; intuitively we know that prototypes belong there, that they are part of the invention process. At the restoration of Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, we take it for granted that there should be sample inventions—prototypes—on the workbench and on the shelves.
But while we know that inventors create prototypes, there has been little systematic study of what roles these models may play in the invention process. Why do inventors make prototypes? What do they learn from them? To borrow from the cognitive scientist Donald Norman, why are prototypes “good to think with?” What makes them effective cognitive artifacts? 
Over the last thirty years, scholars have begun to analyze invention as a process. Beginning with the work of Thomas P. Hughes, historians and psychologists have sought to describe the methods and styles of different inventors . For the most part, this analysis has been based largely on documents and not on the artifacts—the prototypes—created by inventors . In large measure, this may be due to the fact that historians often lack the training (from material culture studies, engineering, or archaeology) or access to collections needed to analyze objects.
Paralleling this interest in understanding invention as a process, other scholars have urged the study of artifacts as primary sources  For instance, under the leadership of Bernard S. Finn, Robert Bud, and Helmut Trischler, regular conferences of a group, Artefacts, are held and they have published six volumes of proceedings . These conferences and volumes have explored all kinds of artifacts and often revealed how artifacts are shaped by the interactions of individuals and groups. However, this line of study has focused more how artifacts are used and less on how they are produced. This approach has not looked deeply into the specific problem of how and why inventors generate prototypes.
The Lemelson Center has long been aware of this gap between the existing scholarship on invention and the potential of inventor’s prototypes to provide information about the invention process. As part of its mission to study the invention process, the Lemelson Center commissioned a study of prototypes in the museum’s collections by Catherine Cole in 1998 . Building on this unpublished report, the Center held a day-long workshop to investigate the ways in which inventors use prototypes in the course of developing new technology. This workshop was held on Friday, 8 September 2006 at the National Museum of American History (NMAH).
This workshop brought together a team of seven specialists who viewed prototypes from a variety of perspectives. The team included an inventor, a patent lawyer, historians, museum curators, and design professors. It also included participants from a government agency (the Food and Drug Administration) and a design firm (Metaphase) since the activities of these organizations involve creating and evaluating prototypes. [Brief biographies of the participants can be found in Appendix A.] Working together, this team discussed the role of prototypes in the invention process and examined five prototypes already in the collections at NMAH. [See Appendix B for a list of the prototypes studied during the workshop.] During the workshop, the team considered several broad questions:
- What do prototypes reveal about how inventors think and work?
- What do they reveal about communicating an invention between the inventor and other groups?
- How are prototypes different than other forms of documentation [letters, notebooks, sketches, patent testimony] created during the invention process?
- How should museums and other institutions proceed in terms of collecting prototypes to document the invention process?
It is important to note that the workshop focused on selected kinds of inventions. In planning for the workshop, we chose non-electrical, non-electronic prototypes from the NMAH collections since these devices had features that were visible and hence could be looked at and discussed by the working group. We recognized that this approach meant that we would be looking mostly at material, form, and motion (as opposed to invisible electronic or chemical processes) but we felt that this was an appropriate starting point. In addition, by drawing on the expertise of Joshua Salcman from Metaphase and Art Ciarkowski from the FDA, the working group also considered examples of consumer products and medical devices.
During the workshop, we also encouraged the working team to consider not only how inventors use prototypes in the early stages of conceptualizing a new product but also how prototypes are used by the inventor to interact with other groups such as investors, patent officials, manufacturers, regulators, and end-users. We felt it was essential to look at how prototypes were used for both thinking and communicating in order to see all of the forces that shape the final form of a product.
Invention as the Mingling of Ideas and Objects
To investigate how prototypes are used to invent new technology, we need to consider first what we mean by invention. In the popular mind, invention is often equated with a Eureka moment in which an inventor suddenly has a great idea, but invention can also be seen as a process, as a set of activities. In the course of creating a new product, an inventor pursues a variety of activities by which he or she seeks to mingle ideas and objects. These activities can include thinking, observing, note-taking, sketching, and experimenting. Sometimes an inventor has an idea first and then tries to make it real by building a crude model; in other cases, an inventor tinkers with objects on the workbench and out of this tinkering comes a new idea. But either way—whether it be “top down” (mind to bench top) or “bottom up” (objects to ideas)—invention is about mingling ideas with objects.
Prototypes for Thinking, Learning, and Doing
Inventors mingle ideas and objects using a variety of tools, such as notebooks, drawings, written documents, and computer simulations, but prototypes may well be the most important tool that they employ. Through prototypes, inventors investigate, understand, and shape ideas into a product that people will use.
Why do inventors use prototypes? The working group identified several reasons. First and perhaps most obviously, inventors build prototypes because they are an effective way to learn what will and won’t work. Often, the first step in the invention process is to fashion a crude mock-up to see if one can achieve the actual process or motion needed to perform a particular task. Moreover, in trying to get a device to perform in a certain way, an inventor may encounter new ideas to try; prototypes are pregnant with possibilities.
Yet a second reason for building prototypes early in the invention process is that it is a quick way to learn things. Rather than laboriously move from theory to calculations to experiment to test model, an inventor frequently can fashion several crude mock-ups and learn a great deal in a short time. In fast-moving, highly competitive industries, the speed by which a new product can be introduced is crucial, and so prototypes are used by inventors, designers, and engineers to keep one step ahead of the competition.
But why are prototypes both quick and effective means for learning? Here we need to consider how inventors interact with the world. Rather than being abstract thinkers, inventors are frequently individuals who learn by using their senses of sight and touch. To learn and understand something, many inventors need to see it, touch it, and handle it—all of which means they need an object with which to work. Prototypes allow inventors to make use of their “fingertip knowledge.” Both Mike Augspurger and Colin Twitchell—the practicing inventors in the group--emphasized that they can tell if they are making progress on an invention by handling a prototype; this allows them to draw on their store of tacit knowledge and apply it to the device at hand.
Still a fourth reason why inventors use prototypes is because, as Colin Twitchell observed, “Breaking things is the only way to learn.” A prototype can be tested until it breaks, and how a device fails reveals to the inventor what he or she might try next in order to improve the device. [Because so many prototypes are destroyed through this sort of testing, it’s important to realize that surviving prototypes are probably an unusual amalgam of all the prototypes created in the invention process].
In building and breaking prototypes, inventors are seeking the right mix of form and function. They are trying to match the structure of device with the intended goal. For instance, in discussing the Teeter Pong mousetrap, the group observed that the inventor used several prototypes to develop a see-saw tube design that could actually capture a mouse. While the goal was for the mouse to run in the tube, over the pivot point, and “hence be trapped by the ping pong ball when his weight caused the tube to tip down, an examination of the prototypes reveal that the inventor had a problem with friction—the ball didn’t always roll when the pivot tipped. An examination of just the printed material—instructions and product literature—would not have revealed this flaw in the design.
The group further discussed how inventors move from specific to general conditions as they move through several iterations of prototypes. Intent on getting a device to work at the bench, they start with the available materials and skills. Over time, as they better understand how the device operates and how the invention might be used, inventors work to adapt the design in terms of parts and features so that it operates in more varied environments and can be made to perform by a variety of people. The drive towards generalization is often in anticipation of manufacturing and marketing issues that an inventor knows she or he will encounter later.
Prototypes may also reveal how inventors work in different ways. On the one hand, they may tinker or play with the prototypes in the sense that they explore in a non-intentional way what works and what doesn’t work. On the other hand, inventors also can engage in systematic analysis and seek to understand and optimize certain aspects of the design. For instance, Van Phillips developed a particular prototype of his Flex-Foot in order to understand motions and forces involved in the complex act of running. Similarly, the Head Tennis rackets examined by the group revealed that these rackets had been used on a testing machine to study how the size of the racket head and string tension affected performance. As the group observed, other prototypes are used to test for durability and reliability.
The group also discussed the differences between working with Computer-Aided Drawing [CAD] software and prototypes. The consensus was that both CAD and prototypes reveal different information to the inventor. According to Colin Twitchell, CAD immerses the inventor into a virtual world where all sorts of things are possible, but not all of these possibilities are necessarily feasible or desirable in the real world. As an illustration, Colin described how a student working in CAD specified a screw-driver access hole in his design to have a precision of .0001 inch. When queried, the student came to realize that although the hole could be drawn that small in CAD, it would be difficult and unnecessary to manufacture it that small in reality. Mike Augspurger further noted that because two-dimensional CAD and three-dimensional models revealed different things to him, he often found it useful to move back and forth between drawings and prototypes.
Finally, in talking about how prototypes are used in the process of formulating and testing an idea, it became very clear that prototypes often do not survive. As noted, they are often broken in the course of experiments and tests. Equally, because inventors are often short of key parts and money, prototypes are cannibalized. As an inventor moves from one prototype to the next, parts are pulled out and placed in the next version. For historians and curators, this may mean that any particular prototype may be a mongrel—a mix of parts and ideas from several different prototypes. Overall, the feeling was that prototypes only survive in the inventor’s workshop as long as they are useful for thinking about the problem at hand. Indeed, both Mike and Colin said that while they knew that prototypes should be saved in order to document patents, they found it difficult to imagine that anyone would really want to go back and look at their prototypes. As manifestations of early ideas, mistakes, and paths not taken, inventors see prototypes as being valuable but “ugly.”
How are Prototypes Used by Inventors to Interact with Different Audiences?
In the process of creating new technology, one of the major challenges is shifting an invention from being something that only an inventor is able to use to being something that others can use as well. In its earliest form, an invention is a device that only an inventor is able to operate or make work (often with lots of skill and luck) but over time, an inventor has to modify the device so that it can be easily operated by a range of users. For instance, Mike Augspurger explained that when he started designing bikes for the disabled, he assumed that he could test his designs by “relaxing from the waist down.” It wasn’t until he started asking disabled riders to test his bikes that he realized how wrong he had been. Getting feedback from actual users enabled Mike to make functional changes to his bikes that would enable them to steer, stop, and switch gears with their upper bodies.
To make this transition from being a working device to a widely-used product, an inventor may generate additional prototypes, with different kinds of prototypes aimed at shaping an interaction between the inventor and various audiences. These different audiences may not be only end-users but also co-workers, manufacturers, investors, regulators, and patent lawyers. Because prototypes often come between the inventor and these audiences, a central finding of the working group was that prototypes often reveal the social dynamics of the innovation process.
Some of the first people with whom an inventor may share a prototype are his or her collaborators. As Mike Augspurger observed, “invention is becoming a team sport” in which new products and processes are developed by multidisciplinary teams. One of the ways that a team shares ideas is to build a prototype that can be examined and discussed. For instance, in developing a disk drive for a personal computer, one team of Japanese engineers fashioned a wooden prototype that was changed each time the team added a new feature to the design. Not only did this prototype document the design changes, but it meant that there was a convenient source—the prototype itself—which team members could use in their own thinking and tinkering . Several members of the working group observed that prototypes are regularly used in this manner to develop all kinds of electronics projects.
Inventors may also share prototypes with potential customers or end-users, in order to learn how people may perceive and use a new device. Josh Salcman described how designers at his firm, Metaphase, show several prototypes to clients (as well as focus groups of the client’s customers); as clients and customers look at and handle the prototypes, they are often able to tell the designers what they need and like about a product, and the designers are able to observe how their clients interact with the device. By looking at several prototypes at a time, moreover, the client can often compare and contrast different alternatives and articulate more clearly what goals they hope to achieve with the product under development. When used in this manner, prototypes allow inventors and designers to incorporate user feedback into the development process.
Other members of the team emphasized that user feedback is essential if one of the goals of a new product is to make it intuitive for users. By showing potential users prototypes, inventors and designers want to see if users are able to recognize what a device is, how they might use it, and determine whether they want it. As an example, Josh described how Metaphase designed a new bottle for Gatorade with a built-in handgrip, seeking not only to make the bottle distinctive but also so attractive that people would want to reach out, take the bottle off the shelf, and purchase it.
In other cases, prototypes are used in order to adapt an invention to the needs of specific users. As an illustration, the group discussed a segment from a video history interview with Van Phillips, where he describes how parts of the Flex-Foot prosthesis had to be adjustable so that the prosthetist could make adjustments in his office for each individual patient. Indeed, Art Ciarkowski noted that for some health-related devices, there is no final mass-produced version but only prototypes that are created and adjusted to the needs of each user.
Prototypes may also be created by the inventor in order to guide the behavior of end-users. For instance, the group discussed the prototype packaging for the first birth control pills, noting that the inventor had fashioned this dispenser in order to help his wife to remember to take one pill each day .
Inventors further use prototypes to interact with manufacturers. In examining the prototype Maidenform Bras, the group used the notes on the attached tags to theorize that the bras were used by the designers and manufacturers to discuss how different sewing techniques and fabrics affected the fit and feel of the bras. Only by making several different versions could the designer determine how the bra should be assembled. The group was especially interested in the fact that the tags suggested that information moved both from the designers to the manufacturers and vice versa, illustrating the collaborative nature of invention.
Finally, prototypes can play an important role in the process of patenting. Prior to the 1880s, the US Patent Office required inventors to submit a very specific kind of prototype—a patent model—that was then used by patent examiners to evaluate the claims of the inventor. Once an invention was patented, the models then became part of the collections of the Patent Office where they could be studied by other inventors. As the intellectual property lawyer on the team, Don Pelto observed that patent models were often designed to highlight a simple underlying principle since a patent covering a broad principle would be more valuable than a patent that claimed one specific version of an invention. As a result, patent models may not capture all of the complexity of the actual device produced by an inventor.
Once an inventor secures a patent, he or she may use prototypes in the process of protecting an invention from infringement. Don noted that patent lawyers strongly encourage inventors to save prototypes since they can be used to convince judges and juries that an inventor was the first to come up with a particular idea and convert it into a meaningful device. Don described how sometimes in a trial, he will simply display a prototype on the table in front of the jury without introducing it as a formal piece of evidence; the very presence of the prototype suggests to the jury that the inventor is the creator and owner of the idea being debated in court.
What Can Prototypes Reveal about the Invention Process?
As part of the workshop, the expert team discussed what scholars, museum visitors, and other groups might learn by looking at prototypes. The team observed that ideally one should study artifacts in conjunction with other sources of information. For instance, the team found it helpful not only to look at the Flex-Foot prototypes but to view a short video in which the inventor held and talked about the device. Similarly, the team suggested that prototypes should be interpreted by comparing them with notebooks, sketches, legal testimony, and oral histories. In terms of collecting prototypes, a key recommendation of the team was that museums and archives should strive to collect both the prototypes and supporting documentary material, and conduct oral history interviews whenever possible.
At the same time, the team considered what can be learned if one has only the prototypes. Here the experts suggested that one may employ prototypes to infer several aspects of how an inventor works.
First and foremost, an examination of the prototypes can reveal what resources, materials, and skills are available to an inventor. The Teeter Pong prototypes were made of PVC tubes and scraps of wood, suggesting that the inventor had limited resources available. In contrast, the Maidenform Bras were carefully assembled, suggesting that they were the work of a skilled seamstress, perhaps even a seamstress who specialized in making prototype garments. Put another way, the team thought that a direct examination of prototypes can reveal the “palette” of materials and techniques available to an inventor. More broadly, the historians on the team suggested that the palette may be an indicator of an inventor’s social and cultural environment; variations in materials and techniques could offer clues as to the social setting in which the inventor was working (lonely garret versus well-equipped corporate laboratory) as well as the cultural perceptions associated with invention. While the inventor may feel most comfortable working with the palette he or she has created, successful inventors are often those who expand their knowledge and skills into new areas, and who collaborate with others to achieve larger goals.
Prototypes can reveal the scale and scope with which an inventor chooses to work. Depending on what they are trying to learn, inventors may build a full-scale version of an invention, a miniature model, or even a larger-than-life version. For instance, the architect Frank Gehry designs his buildings by creating several models of different sizes (such as 1:5 and 1:10). Working at different scales allows the inventor not only to “zoom in” on the performance on specific parts but also to “zoom out” and look at how the parts work together as a system. Related to the idea of zooming in is the issue of scope. In some cases, the inventor looks at all aspects of a device, but in other cases, he or she chooses to focus on one particular problem with an invention. For instance, the Flex-Foot prototypes indicate that the inventor spent a great deal of time experimenting with the load and return rate of the main spring in the design. Indeed, the team noted that some prototypes are called “study models” and are created to analyze particular forces operating in a device.
Another aspect of the invention process that can be observed in prototypes is the mix of non-intentional and intentional activities. Some prototypes, like Teeter Pong, were used probably for tinkering—for playing with how ideas and objects could be mingled together. Other prototypes, such as the Head Tennis Rackets, were clearly placed in testing machines in order to gather data for systematic analysis. Likewise, the Maidenform Bras were produced in order to evaluate how different assembly techniques and fabrics affected the fit of the garment.
Prototypes may also reveal the difficulties that an inventor encounters during the creative process. As David Shayt noted about the Teeter Pong mousetrap, the inventor was wrestling with how to balance functionality with manufacturing cost, as well as how to dispose of the caught mouse. How could he achieve his complex design as cheaply as possible? Did his design deal with the problem of handling the mouse dead or alive? David observed that the prototypes for this mousetrap suggest that the inventor was not able to make the right sort of tradeoffs between these factors: the design was more complicated and more expensive than existing traps and the user still had to handle the mouse after it had been caught.
A discussion between Mike and Colin about the materials used in the earliest Teeter Pong prototype (two-by-fours, nails, and twine) revealed that the invention process can be very emotional for the inventor. The choice of materials, repeated failures, and occasional successes play a large role in the affective experience of inventing, and can determine whether or not the project succeeds. Colin suggested that interviewing an inventor about his/her feelings during key prototyping events would yield important information about the invention process itself, and human creativity in general.
Overall, prototypes are a valuable window into how an inventor works. Indeed, prototypes may be the only way that scholars can gain access to the method and style of an inventor since inventors seldom stop to describe in writing the crucial decisions they make while using prototypes to mingle ideas and objects. Yet at the same time, historian Kathy Franz warned that while prototypes may come between an inventor and users, it can be very difficult to use prototypes alone to determine if any of the feedback from users was incorporated into the design; for this, we would need documents or interviews from the client or users.
What are the Challenges to Collecting Prototypes?
As the working group discussed what can be learned from prototypes, they also addressed the challenges of collecting and preserving these artifacts.
Surprisingly, the team thought that the most serious problems confronting curators and archivists with regard to prototypes were that not many survive and that inventors may not want them preserved. As we have noted, many prototypes are destroyed through testing or cannibalized for parts. Moreover, hot on the trail of a new device, inventors only keep prototypes around for as long as they are useful. Once an inventor has learned everything he can from one prototype, he or she often gets rid of it in order to focus on the next version. And finally, when a prototype proves to be a dead-end or a failure, it is again thrown away. As several team members observed, inventors are like everyone else in that they don’t want others to see their mistakes.
Another difficulty concerns the ability of inventors to put prototypes into context. Even if a particular prototype survives, an inventor may not be able to recall exactly what he or she was trying to do with it. For instance, when Edison testified about his work on the telephone, he introduced a dozen prototypes as exhibits, but he was unable to tell the lawyers exactly what he did with each prototype and why each was a step in the process. Hence, we may have the prototype but not necessarily the story about the role it played in the invention process. To offset this problem, curators and archivists may want to be sure and include an interview about prototypes during the acquisition of a collection.
Finally, there is the issue of the costs of collecting and preserving prototypes. Given the size of some prototypes, they may be quite expensive to store over the long term. While the expert team acknowledged that cost would be a major factor in the decision to acquire prototypes from a particular inventor, the team noted that further discussion would be needed to determine how to balance cost versus the information and insights offered by prototypes.10 Maggie Dennis noted that, while the museum may one day have the opportunity to collect Robert Jarvik’s prototypes, for example, at least they have been documented in the video history interview. Video and photo documentation should be considered as an alternative when prototypes cannot be collected.
Why Should Museum and Archives Collect Prototypes?
Despite the challenges associated with prototypes, the expert team concluded that museums and archives should make every effort to collect and preserve them since prototypes are unique resources for exhibition and teaching. Several members of the team pointed out that one of the best ways for the public to appreciate their history and identity is to see authentic objects; for the invention of major technologies, authentic objects would include early prototypes made by the inventor and used by early adopters. If we regard certain inventions as major achievements in American culture, then we need to preserve the artifacts—the prototypes—associated with these inventions.
But prototypes are not just about preserving “firsts.” They are also an opportunity to expand people’s understanding of how technology is created. Over the course of the day, the team reiterated the value of prototypes for giving people insight into the creative process. Prototypes reveal the hard work involved in mingling ideas and objects, how inventors learn, and the choices and tradeoffs that they make. Prototypes, the very objects handled by inventors as well as early users, reveal that invention is not the work of solitary geniuses, who like Prometheus hand down fire from the gods; rather, prototypes are an opportunity to show how technology is the result of inventors working with collaborators, clients, and customers. If prototypes teach people about the ways in which inventors work with society, then they are well worth collecting and preserving.
Immediate Recommendations for the Lemelson Center
The insights of the expert team suggest a number of practical steps that the Lemelson Center should undertake to strengthen its ongoing mission to document the ways in which inventors work. Specific recommendations for immediate action include:
- First, new guidelines should be prepared that highlight the importance of acquiring from inventors both prototypes and archival materials. In particular, it may be helpful to have a checklist that describes what kind of prototypes to look for and how to be on the lookout for new and unexpected prototypes.
- Second, these guidelines should discuss what kind of supporting documentation is needed to help researchers interpret the prototypes collected. What written records are best suited for placing prototypes in context? What information needs to be included in the acquisition record for future researchers?
- Third, it would be desirable to develop guidelines for conducting oral history interviews with inventors that incorporate the documentation of prototypes. During an interview, it would be wonderful to have an inventor talk about his or her prototypes, but what questions should the interviewer ask in order to capture essential information about how the prototype was created and used, how they work, what problems they helped to solve?
- Fourth, if inventors generate prototypes in the course of interacting with various groups (such as co-workers, manufacturers, and early users), then the Center may want to think about how it captures the reactions of these groups. Although the Center’s focus is on inventors, should it also document how these other groups responded to the prototypes? In other words, should the Center try and capture both sides of the interaction?
- Fifth, the Center should expand its examination of the invention process to include the role of testing, regulation, litigation, user intervention, and design education.
- Finally, our understanding of the invention process as non-linear should influence the Center’s collecting strategy, taking into account series of prototypes documenting the development of a device, dead-ends and offshoots that weren’t pursued, and ancillary equipment, such as machine tools and material samples. When sampling is required, efforts should be made to document material that is not collected with videography and still photography.
These guidelines are needed to continue to enhance the immediate efforts of the Lemelson Center staff to document invention and innovation. Ultimately, though, these guidelines should also be refined so that they can be used to guide others as well. Ideally, these guidelines should combine examples of how and why inventors create prototypes with a discussion of how to collect and preserve them. Through this combination of explanation and practice, the Lemelson Center can help encourage other museums and archives to help capture these valuable materials.
Appendix A: Participants in Prototypes Workshop
Mike is the inventor of the All Terrain Handcycle for wheelchair users and founder of One-Off Titanium, Inc. He creates experimental and custom-designed products, usually on commission. Most of his work is related to bicycles. Throughout the long process of design and development, Mike works with wheelchair athletes to test ride his models. He performs all stages of the work, from concept and design to machining, assembly, welding, and some finishing, by himself.
W. Bernard Carlson
Bernie is Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering School of Engineering and Applied Science. He is an expert on the role of technology and innovation in American history, and he has written extensively on the method and style of inventors such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Bernie received his Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania and his publications include Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900. With support from the Sloan Foundation, he is currently completing a biography of the inventor Nikola Tesla.
Art is Associate Director for the Division of Cardiovascular Devices (DCD) at the Food and Drug Administration. DCD is responsible for the evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of new cardiovascular devices. As Associate Director, he is involved in the development of international standards, guidance, and policy. Art is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh where he teaches ethics seminars and lectures on medical device design to bioengineering students.
Kathy is Assistant Professor of History and Director of Public History at American University. She holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University where she specialized in American cultural history, the history of technology, and museum studies. Kathy is the author of the recent book Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005) which explores the history of invention through the lens of user innovation. She is also a public historian who has worked as a consultant and guest curator on exhibitions in Washington, DC. Currently she is a guest curator at the National Building Museum working on "David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture," scheduled to open in February 2006.
Don is partner in the in the intellectual property and patent litigation practices at the firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. He has particular experience with technological developments in the fields of molecular biology, pharmaceuticals, bioinformatics, pharmaceutical small molecules, diagnostics, and software, medical products and devices, including surgical devices, medical product manufacturing processes and related methodologies and business methods.
Josh is director, Innovation & Business Strategy, Metaphase Design Group, Inc. Metaphase is a design company specializing in the research, ergonomics, and design of handheld products, including consumer, medical, business, and commercial products. Josh works with clients to identify opportunities for innovation and brand revitalization through new product development. He draws on a multi-disciplinary background spanning science, design, technology, and business to develop strategic approaches that weave marketplace goals with ergonomic and design objectives.
Carlene is a curator in the Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Her responsibilities include taking care of the museum’s collections of clocks and watches, devices for sound recording, locks, and robots. Her most recent encounter with a prototype involved “Stanley,” the robot that beat 22 other driverless vehicles in DARPA’s Grand Challenge, a 132-mile race across the Mojave Desert in October 2005.
Colin is founding director of the Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center (LATDC) located at Hampshire College. He has worked in the field of assistive technology and has been active with entrepreneurial endeavors for more than twenty years. During this time, he has been involved in several start-up businesses and with bringing inventions to the marketplace. Through his work at LATDC, Colin has helped students obtain intellectual property protection, start businesses, and create social enterprises.
Lemelson Center Staff
Joyce Bedi, senior historian and webmaster
Maggie Dennis, historian and fellowship coordinator
John Fleckner, associate director
Alison Oswald, archivist
Monica Smith, lead project coordinator
Appendix B: Prototypes Discussed during the Workshop
- Teeter Pong mousetrap
- Flex-Foot prosthesis
- Birth control pill dispenser
- Head tennis rackets
- Maidenform bras
Appendix C: Bibliography
Bud, Robert, et al., eds. Manifesting Medicine: Bodies and Machines. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1999.
Carlson, W. Bernard. Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Cole, Catherine. “Invention Prototypes, Tangible Ideas,” unpublished report, Lemelson Center, 1998.
Ferguson, Eugene. Engineering and the Mind’s Eye. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1992.
Franz, Kathy. Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Hughes, Thomas P. American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970. New York: Viking Press, 1977.
Kelley, Tom. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1981.
Latour, Bruno. “Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands,” Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Culture Past and Present. Vol. 6, 1986, pgs. 172-177.
Lubar, Steven and W. David Kingery, eds. History From Things: Essays on Material Culture. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.
Norman, Donald. Things that Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993.
Oudshoorn, Nelly and Trevor Pinch, eds. How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2003.
Pickett, W.B. Technology at the Turning Point. San Francisco: San Francisco Press, 1977.
Pretzer, William S., ed. Working at Inventing: Thomas A. Edison and the Menlo Park Experience. Dearborn, MI: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 1989.
Vincenti, Walter. What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.
Weber, Robert J. Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons: A Field Guide to Inventive Thinking. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Weber, Robert J. and David N. Perkins, eds. Inventive Minds: Creativity in Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Wilson, Frank R. The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.
1 Topics for future workshops include conducting oral history interviews with inventors, documenting inventor’s labs, and patent litigation records, to name a few.
2 Donald Norman, Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993).
3 The seminal essay on the method of inventors is Thomas P. Hughes, “Edison’s Method” in Technology at the Turning Point, ed. W.B. Pickett (San Francisco: San Francisco Press, 1977), 5-22. Hughes developed his ideas about method and style more fully in American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 (New York: Viking, 1989). For a treatment of the invention process from the standpoint of psychology, consult Robert J. Weber, Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons: A Field Guide to Inventive Thinking (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
4 For an example of a study which used prototypes to study the invention process, see W. Bernard Carlson Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991; Paperback Edition, 2002).
5 Steven Lubar and W. David Kingery, eds., History from Things: Essays on Material Culture (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).
6 These volumes include Robert Bud et al., eds., Manifesting Medicine: Bodies and Machines (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1999); Bernard Finn et al., eds. Exposing Electronics (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000); Bernard Finn et al., eds., Presenting Pictures (London: Science Museum, 2004); Bernard Finn and Barton C. Hacker, eds., Materializing the Military (London: Science Museum, 2005); [Bernard Finn et al.,] eds., Showcasing Space (London: Science Museum, 2005).
7 Catherine C. Cole, “Invention Prototypes, Tangible Ideas,” unpublished report, Lemelson Center, 1998.
8 Plus Development Case, Harvard Business School.
9 See also Patricia Peck Gossel, “Packaging the Pill,” in Manifesting Medicine: Bodies and Machines, ed. R. Bud et al., ((Harwood, 1999?), 105-121.
10 For a parallel discussion of the tradeoffs between the costs of digitizing archival collections and the number of users, see Katie Hafner, “History, Digitized (and Abridged),” Sunday Business Section, New York Times, 11 March 2007.