Energy & Power
The Museum's collections on energy and power illuminate the role of fire, steam, wind, water, electricity, and the atom in the nation's history. The artifacts include wood-burning stoves, water turbines, and windmills, as well as steam, gas, and diesel engines. Oil-exploration and coal-mining equipment form part of these collections, along with a computer that controlled a power plant and even bubble chambers—a tool of physicists to study protons, electrons, and other charged particles.
A special strength of the collections lies in objects related to the history of electrical power, including generators, batteries, cables, transformers, and early photovoltaic cells. A group of Thomas Edison's earliest light bulbs are a precious treasure. Hundreds of other objects represent the innumerable uses of electricity, from streetlights and railway signals to microwave ovens and satellite equipment.
- Abraham Lincoln had considerable maritime background, although it is usually eclipsed by his political heritage. At the age of 19 in Anderson Creek, Ind., he built a flatboat for $24, loaded it with a local farmer’s produce, and floated it 1,000 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where he sold both the boat and its cargo. When he was 22, he was hired by an Illinois store owner to take some goods down the Mississippi and sell them in New Orleans. Lincoln built another flatboat and successfully piloted it from New Salem, Ill. to New Orleans over a three-month period.
- In the mid-1840s, as a lawyer in Springfield, Ill., his law partner William Herndon recalled watching Lincoln working on a large boat model with a local craftsman. A Springfield resident recalled Lincoln demonstrating the idea for his model in public. His model embodies an idea Lincoln had for raising vessels over shoal waters by increasing their buoyancy. That idea became patent #6,469 in May 1849—the only patent ever obtained by an American president. After he became president in 1860 and moved to Washington, he visited his model in the nearby Patent Office at least once. He also enjoyed reviewing naval vessels and ideas, and he personally approved inventor John Ericsson’s idea for the ironclad warship Monitor.
- Lincoln’s original patent model was acquired by the Smithsonian in 1908 and has left the Mall only once since then, for an exhibit at the US Patent Office. This replica was built by the Smithsonian in 1978 for long-term display to preserve the fragile original.
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- National Museum of American History