On January 13, 1983 President Ronald Reagan declared February 11 as National Inventors Day. The date was chosen in honor of the birthday of Thomas Alva Edison. Edison invented such important innovations as the incandescent electric lamp, the phonograph, and the motion picture projector and earned over 1,000 patents during his lifetime. In Proclamation 5103, President Reagan stated that "inventors are the keystone of the technological progress that is so vital to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of this country."
Closely following Edison in number of patents earned, is Jerome Lemelson who has more than 600 patents to his name and who, in 1995, co-founded the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History with his wife, Dorothy Lemelson. The Center engages with the public through research, educational initiatives, exhibitions, and public programs to "solve problems, navigate challenges, and effect real change in their lives and communities." It hosts activities that explore the Smithsonian's vast collections and archival holdings to "advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work, and nurture creativity in young people." At the Museum, the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation features the exhibition, Places of Invention, which highlights six communities that exemplify the array of people, places, time periods, and technologies that produced incredible innovations and inventions. Next door to the exhibition is the Draper Spark!Lab, a workshop space that allows children between the ages of six and twelve to create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment and invent. Also in the Lemelson Hall is Inventive Minds, a changing exhibition gallery which introduces visitors to the work of the Center, especially its efforts to document invention through video interviews with inventors and the collection of archival materials and artifacts.
Personally, I had my start at the Smithsonian as a Lemelson Center archival intern after graduating from library school. I had the pleasure of cataloging the Fellows Gear Shaper Company Records, the ITT Industrial Research Laboratories Electron Tube Research Records, the Emilio Segre Collection, and the Van Phillips Video Oral History and Papers. I also found myself, ironically enough, becoming a part of the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections when I was photographed at the Center as an intern.
Want to try your hand at finding your inner inventor? Check out the Lemelson Center's "Create a Solar-Powered Invention."