About the Lemelson Center

Since 1995, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center has led the Smithsonian in the study of invention and innovation.

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, located at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, explores the role of invention and innovation in the United States, particularly its historical context, and how that history relates to current events.

Drawing on the Smithsonian’s vast collections of artifacts and archival materials, Lemelson Center activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work, and nurture creativity in young people. The Center embodies a philosophy akin to that of the inventions we study, of valuing creativity and embracing the potential rewards of intellectual risk-taking. A few of the Center’s signature programs demonstrate the ways in which the Lemelson Center shares stories of American ingenuity:

Places of Invention is a new exhibition scheduled to open in the Lemelson Hall of Invention in early 2015. Building on more than 15 years of research by the Lemelson Center, the exhibition will ask questions about historic and modern communities where people, resources, and spaces have come together to spark inventiveness. What makes one place a hotbed of innovation while a similar place may founder? Places of Invention will become an innovative community itself, with opportunities for hands-on explorations, discussions, and public-generated content that will connect visitors in the Museum gallery and online with other communities of invention. A key element of the exhibition project is the POI Affiliates pilot program. Six Smithsonian Affiliate museums participating in the pilot will work with the Lemelson Center to explore the documentation of real-world places and circumstances of invention and innovation across the country historically and today.

Spark!Lab reveals the real story behind inventors’ work through hands-on activities that help kids and families learn about the history and process of invention. Infused with historical content, Spark!Lab’s interdisciplinary activities appeal to varied learning styles, ages, and abilities. The success of the Spark!Lab philosophy has led to the Lemelson Center taking bold steps towards bringing the Spark!Lab experience to other institutions. In 2011, the Lemelson Center established its first satellite Spark!Lab at the Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada, and, with the U.S. State Department, implemented a temporary Spark!Lab installation in Kyiv, Ukraine, in September 2012.

Through our presence in the Museum and our online and outreach programs, the Center aspires to be the nation’s leading resource for the history of invention and innovation. The Center continues to bring together the public, historians and museum professionals, and inventors to foster a better understanding of the role of invention in American history through exhibitions and programs, such as the annual New Perspectives symposium, the Inventive Voices podcast series and the Bright Ideas blog; to advance the field of invention scholarship through internship, fellowship, and documentation programs; and to support a new generation of innovative Americans through invention education activities, both on and off the National Mall.

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