The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
Centerpieces   Places of Invention
An exhibition under development

What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks a surge of invention and innovation? The answer may surprise you.

Places of Invention, a new family-friendly exhibition under development by the Lemelson Center, will take visitors on a journey through time and place to meet people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed--all in the pursuit of something new.

Featuring six communities that represent a fascinating array of people, places, time periods, and technologies, Places of Invention will show visitors what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together.

Places of Invention opens in 2015.

Communities featured in the exhibition:

Sketch of Bronx section of the exhibition

BRONX 1970s

The Bronx in the 1970s was a paradox. Culturally rich with communities of African Americans and immigrants from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic, it was also economically devastated. But it was the right environment for the invention of hip-hop. The residents’ diverse traditions influenced the sound of hip-hop, while the urban landscape provided the raw materials for its technical innovations. DJs mined the Bronx’s abandoned buildings, cars, and streets for the components they needed to craft the “best” sound system—and they made neighborhood spaces like public housing, parks, and schools their stage.

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Sketch of Fort Collins section of the exhibition


Situated where the plains meet the Rockies, Fort Collins, Colorado, is known for its abundant natural resources, good agricultural land, and outdoors lifestyle. The city is also gaining a reputation for breakthrough inventions in clean energy and socially responsible innovation. Colorado State University, the city, and community businesses actively pursue collaborations that result in local innovations with global impact. Seen as a place where a person can make a difference while enjoying life, Fort Collins is one of America’s newest places of invention.

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Sketch of Hartford section of the exhibition

HARTFORD late 1800s

Hartford has always been a center for commerce and transportation. The city started as a trading post for goods shipped first along the Connecticut River and later by railroad. In the 1850s and '60s, Aetna, Travelers, and other firms were founded to protect the profits of maritime trade, making Hartford the “insurance capital of the world.” With the introduction of mass production using interchangeable parts at the Colt Armory and its neighboring firms, all kinds of products—including firearms, sewing machines, bicycles, and automobiles—were made in Hartford.

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Sketch of Hollywood section of the exhibition


Oil strikes, real estate booms, and industrial jobs fueled a population explosion of more than 1,500 percent in Los Angeles County between 1900 and 1940. The cheap land, varied scenery, mild climate, and reliable sunlight of Hollywood had enticed most of the American film industry to move west. Supporting technologies invented in East Coast labs—including methods of making color motion pictures—made their way west, to the soundstages of Hollywood’s "Golden Age" in the 1930s.

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Sketch of Medical Alley section of the exhibition


The first hospital in the United States devoted to heart patients opened in 1951. The Variety Club Heart Hospital, part of the University of Minnesota, soon became known for its culture of risk-taking and collaboration among doctors, clinical researchers, and engineers. Breakthrough inventions developed at the hospital included the external transistorized pacemaker and ways to keep oxygen-rich blood circulating in a patient during open-heart surgery. The university also served as an incubator for spin-off medical-device companies.

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Sketch of Silicon Valley section of the exhibition


California’s Santa Clara Valley wasn’t always known for high-tech. The area had once been an agricultural paradise, teeming with fruit orchards and canneries. Its sunny weather, attractive suburbs, proximity to Stanford University, and casual but fiercely entrepreneurial business culture attracted talented people and new businesses to the region. A booming electronics industry emerged in the 1960s and inspired the nickname “Silicon Valley,” after the main element in integrated circuits. In the 1970s and '80s, this cluster of cities south of San Francisco nurtured the invention of the personal computer.

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Places of Invention Affiliates:

Other places of invention:








New Jersey

New York


Washington, D.C.


Perspectives on places of invention:

About the exhibition:


What makes a place of invention? The Lemelson Center's research has identified a number of shared attitudes, characteristics, and philosophies in places of invention, including:

  • Flexibility. Truly creative spaces are flexible, both architecturally and philosophically. Architecture is easily reconfigured, modular, and responsive to the needs of different people and different projects. Philosophically, these places exhibit balance between the need for solitude and the need for interaction with others.
  • Collaboration, networking, and communication. Creative places make it easy for people to discuss, share, and argue ideas.
  • Leadership. Charismatic leaders serve as catalysts for creativity and articulate and promote a clear mission. These influential mentors are often responsible for originally bringing a group of creative people together.

Since the Lemelson Center opened in 1995, we have addressed “places of invention” through a variety of activities for adult and/or scholarly audiences. Use these resources to investigate your place of invention.

National Science Foundation logoPlaces of Invention is made possible by the generous support of the National Science Foundation »

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