With the contemporary buzz around innovation, the ideas behind Places of Invention could not be more timely. Building on twenty years of research by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, this book asks: Why does invention flourish in one spot but struggle in another, very similar location? Is it simply being at the right place at the right time, or is it more than that? How does place—whether physical, social, or cultural—support, constrain, and shape innovation? In short: Why there? Why then?
Places of Invention, the companion book to the exhibition at the National Museum of American History, explores what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, ready resources, and inspiring surroundings come together and spark invention and innovation. This lavishly illustrated volume examines current and historical conversation on the relationship between place and creativity, citing extensive scholarship and Lemelson Center investigation into the nature of invention and innovation. It dispels the myth of the lone inventor and shows that invention and innovation abound—not just in the Silicon Valleys of America but in hometowns across the country.
Through six case studies and nearly 200 images, exhibition curators tell the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed—all in the pursuit of something new:
- Late 1800s Hartford, Connecticut and the beginnings of American mass production
- 1930s Hollywood, California and breakthroughs in motion picture technology
- 1950s Medical Alley, Minnesota and advances in life-saving medical technologies, treatments, and procedures
- 1970s Bronx, New York and the birth of hip-hop’s unstoppable sound
- 1970s-80s Silicon Valley, California and the origins of personal computing
- 2010s Fort Collins, Colorado and its cutting-edge energy technologies
Interspersed with these case studies are dispatches from three Places of Invention “learning labs” in Seattle, Washington, Peoria, Illinois, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Smithsonian Affiliate museums and community partners are using Places of Invention as a model to document local invention and innovation. Here, Lemelson Center scholarship and public outreach converge to show how invention and innovation can be a transformative lens for understanding local history, cultivating creativity, and engaging communities.
A foreword by Robert E. Simon Jr., founder of the planned community of Reston, Virginia, illuminates the importance of place and community in shaping creative spaces. A provocative closing essay by public historian Dr. Lorraine McConaghy suggests how other state and local institutions might connect past to present and create a road map for transforming local regions into vibrant places of invention.
Joyce Bedi, Laurel Fritzsch, John L. Gray, Eric S. Hintz, Anna Karvellas, Lorraine McConaghy, Arthur P. Molella, Robert E. Simon, Jr., and Monica M. Smith
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