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Enlighten Me: Hagley Museum’s 'Nation of Inventors'

Hagley Museum debuts a new exhibition at its Visitors Center next month.

Nation of Inventors takes advantage of Hagley’s massive collection of patent models to help tell the story of innovation in U.S. and at Hagley.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, we preview the exhibition with Hagley’s executive director Jill MacKenzie.

Hagley officially unveils Nation of Inventors Monday, September 13

It celebrates the American spirit of ingenuity highlighting the early years of the patent system in the late 1700s to the late 1800s, and is inspired by Hagley’s unique collection of 5,000 patent models, the largest private collection of such models.

Hagley Museum executive director Jill MacKenzie explains the models are scaled representations of inventions.

"These were things that were required by the US patent office from 1790 to 1880 as part of the patent application and they're these three dimensional objects that literally are the history of invention in the United States," said MacKenzie. "So we thought what a great way to inspire people to be innovative and that is to actually learn that the history of invention through these models."

MacKenzie says only some of the 120 patent models on display in Nation of Inventors feature recognizable names.

Credit Delaware Public Media
Visitors to 'Nation of Inventors' can see a Thomas Edison patent model on loan to Hagley.


“We have on loan for us a Thomas Edison patent model, and obviously Thomas Edison is probably one of the most famous inventors in our country and certainly one of the most prolific.  So, we think that will bring people in who may not really understand what else they're going to be seeing," said MacKenzie. "And we do have some other famous patent inventors, Bissell and Corliss and Westinghouse But the vast majority of the people who were inventing are not well known."


The exhibition will share stories of inventors with unique circumstances and life experiences who contributed to the energetic, entrepreneurial spirit of the country. 

It also features interactive opportunities to learn, and MacKenzie says they plan to partner with local companies and institutions to create programming that helps connect what's seen in the exhibiton to the present day.

She notes it's a major step toward re-inventing Hagley's mission as part of it's new strategic plan to inspire innovation through its collections, historic powder yards and online resources.

These are things that were innovated on in the 19th century, but you know what, we're still innovating and we want to demystify this so people realize that invention an innovation are things we can practice in our own lives," said MacKenzie.

More information about Nation of Inventors is available at Hagley's website

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