About a decade ago, The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History started to work more aggressively at documenting recent inventions. To that end, in 1997 the museum instituted its Modern Inventors Documentation (MIND) program. MIND aims to ensure that the story of American innovation will include the contributions of “garage” inventors as well as those of greater renown.
The MIND program is a collaboration between two of the museum’s departments, the Archives Center and the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation. It collects and maintains records, advises inventors, and encourages the use of inventors’ records by researchers and the general public. Besides its own archives, the program maintains an online database that lists more than 1,800 collections of inventors’ papers at libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives throughout the country. MIND does not limit itself to strictly technical documents; its archive is also rich in family photographs and correspondence, clippings, marketing materials, and financial records. Closely related are the Lemelson Center’s video interviews with inventors, which are available at the Archives Center.
Through MIND’s efforts, the Archives Center now holds the records of Binney & Smith Inc., the inventor of Crayola crayons; Marion O’Brien Donovan, creator of a key precursor to the disposable diaper; and the Brannock Device Company, which made the foot-measuring instrument used in shoe stores worldwide. Its subjects range from well-known inventors like Howard Head, a designer of skis and tennis rackets, to little-known figures like Victor L. Ochoa, who devised a collapsible airplane around 1910, and young innovators like Matt Capozzi and Nathan Connolly, who as students at Hampshire College developed the Accessible Snowboard for athletes with lower-body disabilities.
Sometimes inventors or their descendants get in touch with MIND and offer to donate papers. In other cases the archivist, Alison Oswald, and her colleagues actively seek materials. MIND also advises inventors and their families in organizing papers, finding appraisers, understanding copyright issues, and choosing an appropriate repository. To encourage creative use of the archive, the Lemelson Center offers travel grants and research fellowships. For further information on MIND and the Lemelson Center, see http://invention.smithsonian.org .
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