The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is open!
Visit these exciting new Lemelson Center destinations!

Lemelson Center light bulb logo

Lemelson Hall of Invention

When the National Museum of American History reopened on 21 November 2008 after an extensive two-year renovation, the Lemelson Center also debuted its new Lemelson Hall of Invention, a 3,500 square-foot exhibition gallery. The Lemelson Hall is part of a top-to-bottom renovation of the Museum’s central core. Initially, the bright, open, and flexible gallery will feature the Center’s award-winning Invention at Play exhibition, which will be on display for approximately two years. To ensure that the Lemelson Hall of Invention is always a dynamic destination at the Museum, the Center plans to develop new exhibitions that continue to share the rich history of invention and innovation with the public.

First floor west.

Visit the Museum's website for more information on the renovation.


Spark Lab logo


Everybody can envision the “Eureka!” moment of invention, where the idea suddenly strikes and—BOOM—there’s a new product ready to change the world. Spark!Lab, the newest hands-on space for families and others visiting the National Museum of American History hopes to show the real story behind an inventor’s work.

Young boy experimenting at lab benchInvention is a process, from creative ideas all the way to successful marketing, and the Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab aims to use fun activities to help kids and families learn about the history and process of invention. You can play games, conduct science experiments, explore inventors’ notebooks, and even invent! Spark!Lab will also feature a regular series of speakers, including contemporary inventors, to let you know just how they got the “invention bug” and put their creativity to use.

First floor west.

Go to the Spark!Lab website »


Invention at Play logo

Invention at Play

What do the inventors behind Post-it Notes®, robotic ants, Kevlar®, and the telephone have in common with children? Play! And it’s the inaugural subject for the new Lemelson Hall of Invention, the Center’s first dedicated public exhibition space at the National Museum of American History, as the Center proudly presents the award-winning exhibition, Invention at Play.

Young girl on sailboard demonstration modelWith its highly interactive and engaging activities created especially for families, Invention at Play focuses on the similarities between the ways children and adults play and the creative skills and processes used by inventors. Visitors of all ages will experience various playful habits of mind that underlie invention, such as curiosity, imagination, visual thinking, model building, and problem solving.

Visitors will also “meet” inventors and innovators through compelling personal stories, photos, and artifacts, and even have a chance to try learning to windsurf on the Sailboard Simulator, which is based on a design by sailboard inventor Newman Darby.

First floor west.

Be sure to visit the online version of the exhibition.


Person testing accessible snowboard prototype

Sporting Invention

Opening in December 2008

Sporting Invention traces the development of sports inventions through drawings and prototypes, revealing the little-known stories of invention behind familiar sports equipment and also highlighting aspects of universal design in sports technology development.

Howard Head playing tennis



Objects featured include the skis and tennis racquets invented by Howard Head and an accessible snowboard for people with disabilities, developed by student inventors at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. By examining the inventive process through the inventors’ sketches and models, visitors gain a new appreciation for how inventors transform the way Americans play.

First floor west.


Prototype of Lemelson's radio-controlled dinosaur toy

Jerome Lemelson: Toying with Invention

Jerome Lemelson earned more than 600 patents, and about 70 of them describe toys—inflatable toys, jumping toys, toys with propellers, toys that run on tracks, target games, dolls, and more. In fact, Lemelson’s first patent, issued in 1953, was for a new kind of propeller beanie. The objects in this case are examples of Lemelson’s toy ideas and show some of the stages in inventing a new plaything.

Lemelson's invention notebook with sketch and description for a fishing game

For many inventors, sketching ideas in a notebook is a first step in the creative process. Prototypes, or models, demonstrate and test how the idea works. Patents are legal documents that describe inventions in words and drawings and give inventors exclusive rights to make and sell their work for several years.

Third floor west.


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