Notes from the Director: Reinventing the National Museum of American History :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
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Art Molella, Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Director

Invention is busting out all ove--at the National Museum of American History, that is. To begin with, the Museum that is home to the Lemelson Center is reinventing itself. When it opens its doors on November 21 after an extensive two-year renovation it will not only look radically different but it will spotlight invention and innovation with the introduction of several new Lemelson Center exhibition spaces.

This is actually the Museum of American History’s second act of reinvention. When it first opened in 1964 it was known as the Museum of History and Technology. A product of postwar scientific and technological euphoria, it was conceived as a “Palace of Progress,” a shrine to technology and invention as pillars of economic progress and democracy. After the turbulent 1960s, historians and the public began to reevaluate this notion of pure technological progress and the Museum adopted a more contextual view, placing science, technology, and invention within broader interpretations of American history. Hence, the change of the Museum’s name in 1980. Conceived in this broader context, the Lemelson Center places invention and innovation within rather than outside of American history, exploring their intimate relationships with other facets of society and culture.

The Lemelson Center eagerly anticipates being part of the Museum’s latest transformation with the opening of our new exhibition spaces. The centerpiece will be the Lemelson Hall of Invention, which will feature as its inaugural presentation the Center’s award-winning interactive exhibition, Invention at Play. Along this same playful line will be smaller exhibitions on toys and sports inventions.

When our benefactors Jerome and his wife Dorothy Lemelson first contacted the Smithsonian, they came out of a desire to increase educational opportunities for young people. The Museum’s former Hands On Science Center particularly intrigued them. With their continuing support, this spacious interactive area, now renamed Spark!Lab, will help kids and their families learn about the history and process of invention.

Have a look at our website,, to find out more about our new exhibits and programs. Then come and join us at the Lemelson Center as we undertake our own process of reinvention.

Until next month,
Art Molella
Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Director

From Prototype, November 2008

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