Look no further than the Greater Wilmington area for a fantastic new permanent exhibition at Hagley Museum & Library. Hagley Museum’s highly anticipated “Nation of Inventors” exhibition officially opened its doors October 8th. The exhibition shares stories of a diverse group of men and women, all with unique circumstances and life experiences, who embodied the entrepreneurial spirit of the United States. Throughout history, most American inventors have been ordinary people who have largely gone unrecognized. They followed a series of steps to develop, design, document and test their inventions, with countless iterations and alterations along the way. Many sought to protect their ideas with a patent from the U.S. government. From 1790-1880, a patent application required a small-scale model of the invention to accompany the application. The patent models demonstrated the key components, usefulness and novelty of inventions. Hagley was inspired by its own collection of nearly 5,000 patent models.
For example, Catherine R. Mott’s 1878 “Improvement in Fire-Escapes” (Patent No. 202,115) was designed with women and children in mind. One hazard of living in New York City was the high concentration of multistory apartment buildings without means of safe evacuation. Mott’s invention consisted of “a cage-ladder against the wall of a building, and in connecting the same with balconies or platforms” so its inhabitants could safely descend a burning building inside the ladder while firefighters could simultaneously ascend the outside of the ladder to extinguish the fire.
Innovation rarely happens on the first try. A feature patent model in “Nation of Inventors” is an 1881 “Carbonizer” (Patent No. 248,423) from Thomas A. Edison. Edison tested 6,000 different fibers before he found that his incandescent bulb required a filament of carbonized cotton thread to make it long-lasting.
Similar to the stories of those featured in “Nation of Inventors,” Hagley had to be resilient in finding new ways to move forward. Flooding from Hurricane Ida in the Visitor Center, where the exhibition is located, resulted in Hagley’s collection team moving 120 one-of-a-kind patent models to safety. During the year-long reconstruction of the Visitor Center, parts were delayed by supply chain issues, and contractors faced the same labor market challenges as other employers. The opening of the exhibition was delayed several times as challenges beyond Hagley’s control slowed recovery efforts.
Celebrate the resilience of both American inventors and Hagley Museum and learn the stories of everyday people and their extraordinary ideas at “Nation of Inventors.” More information can be found at www.hagley.org/inventors.