From hip-hop to computers, Smithsonian museum honors U.S. innovation

Wed Jul 1, 2015 12:39pm EDT
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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Museum of American History opened a $63 million wing on Wednesday celebrating the rich U.S. history of innovation and invention, from 19th century revolvers to hip-hop music and Silicon Valley computers.

The 45,000-square-foot (4,180-square-meter) Innovation Wing is designed to show how for more than 200 years the United States has provided a fertile environment for turning new ideas into reality.

"Invention and innovation has been part of our DNA since the founding of our nation. The United States itself was a revolutionary new idea" when it was founded on July 4, 1776, museum director John Gray said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Gray said inspiring young people to become innovators was a major driver behind the new wing with its 2,000 objects, a dozen exhibitions, learning galleries and program spaces devoted to invention, creativity and American business.

The exhibits include the workshop of video-game inventor Robert Baer, a Fordson tractor from the 1920s, prototype artificial hearts designed in Minnesota in the 1950s and a server built by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1999 using corkboard insulators.

At the entrance to the wing's "American Enterprise" exhibit is a wooden cart used by female Metis, or mixed-race Native Americans and Europeans in the northern Great Plains, to transport furs to market in the 1840s.

Fed up with Britain's monopolistic Hudson's Bay Company, the women used the carts to travel hundreds of miles to reach U.S. traders in St. Paul, Minnesota, who offered better prices.

One of the exhibits, "Places of Invention," covers hotbeds of American creativity. They include the rise of the personal computer in California's Silicon Valley, the birth of hip-hop music in New York in the 1970s and 19th century manufacturing in Connecticut using standardized parts for everything from revolvers to sewing machines.   Continued...