Press Release 02/15/01 :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
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Melinda Machado (202) 357-3129

Smithsonian program for invention supported by $40. Recent Gift Endows Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

The director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center announced today (Feb. 15) that The Lemelson Foundation has increased its commitment to the Smithsonian to $40 million by making a gift of $14.5 million to permanently endow the nation's most comprehensive program promoting invention and creativity. It is the third largest gift to the Smithsonian Institution from an individual private foundation.

Housed within the National Museum of American History, The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation was founded in 1995 with an initial grant of $10.4 million and a mission to explore invention in history and encourage inventive creativity in young people. At the time, the gift from the Lemelsons was the largest cash donation ever presented to the Smithsonian by an individual. The Lemelson Foundation has steadily continued its support for the Center's programs through gifts to the Museum.

Jerome (Jerry) Lemelson was one of the most prolific American inventors, with more than 550 patents to his name. Automatic teller machines, bar code readers, fax machines, VCRs and even toys were derived from Lemelson's inventions. He and his wife Dorothy established the Lemelson Foundation in 1993. Mr. Lemelson died in 1997. Dorothy now serves as chairman and president of that Foundation and also serves on the board of the National Museum of American History.

"The ability to continue inspiring creativity and innovation among millions of Americans is possible because of the commitment of the Lemelson Foundation," said Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small. "By working through the Smithsonian, the Lemelson Foundation created a formula for success, combining private philanthropy with established scholarship to ensure that America continues to foster innovation and remains a leader of invention," Small added.

"This extraordinary commitment by the Foundation is a reflection of the successful work accomplished by the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center staff. The museum has translated our dreams of encouraging and supporting America's next generation of inventors into creative research, education and outreach programs," said Dorothy Lemelson.

The Lemelson Center Programs and Exhibitions

 The Lemelson Center is charged with documenting, interpreting and distributing information on the heritage of American invention. Its research and educational outreach programs include:

  • The Innovative Lives program which introduces young people to living inventors;
  • Symposia, lectures and exhibitions that address key issues in invention and innovation. Recent subjects have been as varied as electric guitars and bicycles;
  • Teacher workshops and curriculum materials, including one on women inventors;
  • Fellowships which bring scholars and professionals to the Center to work on historical research projects, products and educational initiatives and Internships for college students;
  • The Modern Inventors Documentation (MIND) Program, which preserves, documents and promotes access to historical materials of inventors.

With additional recent support from The Lemelson Foundation, the Center will open the exhibition "Nobel Voices: Celebrating 100 Years of the Nobel Prize" on April 26 at the National Museum of American History and a traveling exhibition in 2002. Tentatively titled "Invention at Play," the traveling exhibition will open in Washington and go to science and technology centers across the United States.

The Center is able to draw on the collections and resources of the National Museum of American History. The museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of patent models with approximately 10,000 such models that illustrate the spirit of 19th -century Americans to build new machines and improve American life in the factory, on the farm and at home.

Spencer Crew, director of the National Museum of American History said, "The Lemelson Center is one of the gems of the Smithsonian. This recent gift will allow us to permanently sustain the work of inspiring creativity and innovation. I am proud to say that the first fully endowed center within a Smithsonian museum is at American History."

Lemelson Foundation Funding History

From an initial gift of $30,000 to the museum's Hands On Science Center in 1994, the total Lemelson gift is $40 million. Following is a summary of the Foundation's support:

  • An initial $10.4 million was pledged in 1995 to establish The Lemelson Center;
  • Over time, another $10 million was added for endowment and operations;
  • The Foundation gave $2.5 million for the traveling exhibition, "Invention at Play" and $2 million for "Nobel Voices" which opens this spring.
  • The most recent gift is a pledge of $14.5 million that will endow the Center in perpetuity.

The Foundation has also added to the support of the museum's Hands On Science Center and there have been several personal gifts to the museum.

The Lemelson Foundation is a private philanthropy established by one of the country's most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. Its purpose is to stimulate the U.S. economy and secure its position in the global marketplace by creating the next generation of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs whose good ideas and new devices, products, and processes will provide the basis for new companies and job creation into the next century.

The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th St. and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily (except Dec. 25) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the museum's Web site at: or call (202) 357-2700, 357-1729 (TTY), or (202) 633-9126 (Spanish).



The Smithsonian's Lemelson Center is dedicated to exploring invention in history and encouraging inventive creativity in young people. The Center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy established by one of the country's most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. The Lemelson Center is located in the National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. The nearest Metro stations are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian on the Orange/Blue lines. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except on Dec. 25. Admission is free.
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