Abstract: Places of Invention: Regional Clusters on Display at NMAH

Eric S. Hintz


This paper provides an overview of Places of Invention, a 3,300-square foot, interactive, family-friendly exhibition that debuted on July 1, 2015 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH). Places of Invention draws on several decades of scholarship regarding the influence of geographic, cultural, and community factors in the development of innovative ecosystems, with intellectual inspiration ranging from Alfred Marshall (industrial districts) to Michael Porter (clusters) to Bill Leslie (university-industry-government partnerships).  The exhibition features artifacts, images, and interactive elements highlighting inventions in six historic and contemporary communities: precision manufacturing in Hartford, CT (late 1800s); Technicolor and animation in Hollywood, CA (1930s); open-heart surgery and pace-making in Medical Alley, MN (1950s), the invention of hip-hop in Bronx, NY (1970s); personal computing in Silicon Valley, CA (1970s-80s); and clean-energy technologies in Fort Collins, CO (2010s).  Altogether, the Places of Invention exhibition and companion book demonstrate the fruitfulness of translating business history into public history intended for diverse audiences.