Happiness Hotel! Original Muppets Come Home to Washington

National Museum of American History Recognizes Jim Henson’s Legacy
May 17, 2006
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jim Henson’s iconic Muppets and Kermit the Frog, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and its Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will present “Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson’s Legacy,” opening May 19. Two special displays will feature Henson’s earliest Muppet work—on view for the first time at the museum—as well as his later work in animatronics. “Jim Henson embodied the innovation and ingenuity that is inherent in American culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Beyond the entertainment value Henson’s creations provided, his work helped educate and inform his audiences, an influence that continues today.” In 1955, Henson’s “Sam and Friends” debuted on local D.C. station WRC-TV, which introduced the American audience to Muppets and launched what would become a global phenomenon. “Sam and Friends” featured a number of unique, zany characters from the titular Sam to the first Kermit, a lizard-like creature made from a green felt coat discarded by Henson’s mother. Ten of the characters from “Sam and Friends,” including Henson’s oldest surviving creation Pierre, will be on display at the museum, adjacent to the “American Popular Culture” displays on the third floor. Also on view will be a number of characters from “The Muppet Show” and other Muppet specials and movies that were originally voiced by Henson himself, including a Kermit the Frog from 1969, Rowlf the Dog, the Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and the Banjo Player from the Country Trio, which is actually a self-portrait of Henson. Jim Henson’s contribution to puppeteering and entertainment extends beyond the characters themselves to technology as Henson and his “Creature Shops” pioneered uses of animatronics, or remote-controlled Muppets. This animatronic technology was a prominent component of a number of Henson projects, including the 1982 film “The Dark Crystal.” On view in cases outside the Lemelson Center on the museum’s first floor will be characters from “The Dark Crystal,” including the film’s villain Skeksis, as well as examples of animatronic technology. Jim Henson came up with the word Muppet in the mid-1950s. Seemingly a combination of puppet and marionette, Henson insisted that he chose the term simply because he liked the way it sounded. Central to the design of a Muppet is the way its face is constructed, creating a pattern with the eyes, nose and mouth called “the magic triangle.” This establishes a point of focus essential in bringing a puppet to life in the eye of a TV or movie camera. The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage through exhibitions and public programs about social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. Beginning May 26 and continuing through Sept. 4, the museum, located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., will extend its hours to 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. The museum will close for major renovations beginning Sept. 5. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000, (202) 357-1729 (TTY). The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center is dedicated to exploring invention in history and encouraging inventive creativity in young people. The Center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy established by one of the country's most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. The Lemelson Center is located in the National Museum of American History.