America generated many of humanity’s most useful and stunning inventions: mass produced automobiles, telephone, electricity, flight, television, the internet and Google — to cite just a savvy few.
A recently debuted, newly developed 8,000 square foot wing at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., part of the Smithsonian complex, honors and showcases the never-matched, exceptional ingenuity and verve of America’s innovative thinkers, tinkerers and doers whose brilliance and perseverance literally changed business, transportation, culture, history and civilizations worldwide.
Called “American Enterprise,” the new NMAH ground floor exhibit, seven years in planning, presents ”the benefits, failures and unanticipated consequences of American economic development.”
The panoply is divided into four chronological sections: Merchant Era (1770-1930s), Corporate Era (1860s to 1930s) Consumer Era (1940s to 1970s) and Global Era (1980s to 2010s). Featured personalities include Eli Whitney, Harland “Colonel” Sanders (KFC), Oprah Winfrey, Ruth and Elliot Handler who created the Barbie Doll, and hundreds more inventive personalities historical and contemporary.
All Smithsonian museums are free and family friendly. In winter, fewer tourists clog D.C.’s fabulous, iconic sites, and some hotels offer reduced rates. Tourists in D.C. are often overheard saying they want to visit “the Smithsonian.”
Many seem unaware that what the term “the Smithsonian” consists of 19 separate museums and galleries as well as the National Zoo; 17 of which are on the National Mall. The remaining two are in New York City and Chantilly, Virginia.
NMAH exhibit creators focused particularly on sections to attract children and pre-teens toward becoming the next generation of America’s inventors and entrepreneurs. During a recent walk through the Spark!Lab exhibit area, a roomful of children were excitedly trying to solve various engineering puzzles which involved physically manipulating physical objects and improvised tools to create constructs or achieve movement and purpose.
A group of high level executives visiting D.C., listened enraptured to a curator outlining the exhibits’ focus on successful American business men and women who championed products and services originating in America which became popular worldwide such as cellphones, digital cameras, Global Positioning System and the Bloomberg Keyboard, used in stock trading.
The Marketplace Stories section “looks at the merchant’s role in America’s market economy.” Farm implements and equipment, including a 1918 Fordson tractor are a centerpiece. This section also includes biographies of some of the major personalities in America’s agricultural history: Norman Borlaug (hybrid crops), Cesar Chavez (agricultural labor organizer), the Hart family ( five-generation family farmers) and many others.
To some degree, the American Enterprise theme owes its focus to John L. Gray, NMAH director who spent his life as a commercial banker.
As a whole, Smithsonian museums are stewards of 137 million physical objects, including the “real” Star Spangled Banner American flag, Dorothy’s sparkly ruby slippers and President Abraham Lincoln’s top hat. Visited by 25 million people annually, NMAH alone entertains five million visitors each year.
For additional information visit www.american enterprise.si.edu.