Monica Smith's primary role is Project Director and Principal Investigator for the Lemelson Center’s NSF-funded Places of Invention exhibition project. Monica also helps project manage and develop Lemelson Center activities, including exhibitions, programs, educational resources, and research initiatives about the history of invention and innovation in America.

B.A. in History, Pomona College (1992)

Research Specialties: 

U.S. history and process of invention and innovation, including the role of place, the relationship among invention, creativity, and play, and specifically the invention and development of the electric guitar.


Project Director, Places of Invention exhibition (in development)

Interpretive Planner, Time and Navigation, a joint National Museum of American History (NMAH)-National Air and Space Museum exhibition (opening March 2013)

Project Historian and second Project Manager, Invention at Play exhibition (two traveling versions), 1999-2011.

Educator, Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson’s Legacy exhibition, NMAH, 2006

Curatorial team member, Who Invented the Environment? exhibition, NMAH, 1998

Curatorial team member, Color Sells exhibition, NMAH, 1997

Co-curator, From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar exhibition and complementary web site, NMAH, 1996; curator of redesigned web site, 2007

Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 

The American Association of Museums awarded Invention at Play the 2003 Excellence in Exhibition Award, one of only five issued nationally. It also awarded Invention at Play a MUSE Gold Medal Award for its companion Web site,

In 2010 the Smithsonian Channel film "Electrified: The Guitar Revolution," featuring Monica Smith and former NMAH colleagues Gary Sturm and Will Eastman as speakers, won a CINE Golden Eagle Award in the Arts, Leisure, and Lifestyle category within the Professional Telecast Non-Fiction Division.

Professional Affiliations: 
  • American Association of Museums
  • Association of Science-Technology Centers
  • Museum Education Roundtable (Former Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Museum Education, 2005-2008)
  • National Association for Museum Exhibition
  • Rotary Club of Washington, DC
  • Society for the History of Technology


"Invention at Play: An Award-winning Traveling Exhibition." In Museums at Play: Games, Interaction and Learning, edited by Katy Beale, 440-58. Edinburgh, Scotland: MuseumsEtc., 2011.

This chapter examines how the Lemelson Center's first major exhibition evolved into an exhibition focused on play, and the research, implementation, and evaluation processes along the way, to hopefully provide inspiration for future play-related museum initiatives.

<em>Journal of Museum Education</em>, Co-published by the Museum Education Roundtable and Left Coast Press.

I served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, 2005-2008.

"The Electric Guitar: How We Got From Andres Segovia to Kurt Cobain." American Heritage of Invention and Technology 20, no. 1 (summer 2004): 12–21.

The magazine's cover article about the invention and development of the electric guitar and how it changed the world of music during the 20th century. Features guitarists, makers, and innovators who played important roles in the evolution of the instrument and helped influence popular music styles including rock and roll.

<em>From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar</em> with Gary Sturm. 1997, 2004.

This virtual exhibition features instruments that illustrate how innovative makers and players combined the guitar with a pickup and amplifier to create a new instrument and a new sound that profoundly changed popular music—blues, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll—in the 20th-century. From an exhibition produced by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, November 1996 through October 1997.

"Irons," "Stoves," and "Washing Machines." In Facts on File Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Society, edited by Rudi Volti. New York: Facts on File, 1999.

Entries in specialized science and technology encyclopedia about the invention and development of irons, stoves, and washing machines in America, with links to other inventions featured in the publication.