Preview Case: Places of Invention

What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks a surge of invention and innovation? The answer may surprise you. The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History will explore these questions in Places of Invention, a new 3,300-square-foot family-friendly exhibition opening summer 2015. Places of Invention will take visitors on a journey through time and place to discover the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed—all in the pursuit of something new. The exhibition examines what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together. Case studies include precision manufacturing in Hartford, CT, in the late 1800s; Technicolor in Hollywood, CA, in the 1930s; medical innovations in Medical Alley, MN, in the 1950s; hip-hop’s birth in the Bronx, NY, in the 1970s; the rise of the personal computer in Silicon Valley, CA, in the 1970s and 1980s; and clean-energy innovations in Fort Collins, CO, in the 2010s.


Mayo-Gibbon Heart-Lung Machine, about 1957

The invention of the heart-lung—or cardiopulmonary bypass—machine is one of the most significant contributions in the history of cardiac surgery. Introduced in 1955, the Mayo-Gibbon heart-lung machine was the first commercially produced bypass machine. The Mayo Clinic's Dr. John Kirklin collaborated with colleagues to develop this machine based on Dr. John Gibbon's blueprints from his earlier design.

The machine takes over the heart's function, keeping the patient's damaged heart dry as oxygenated blood circulates through the body during surgery.  The heart-lung machine allowed for longer, more complicated cardiac surgeries, and paved the way for artificial heart valves and heart transplants.

Unprecedented federal government funding—combined with major advances in medical research, practices, and materials during World War II—spurred rapid medical innovation.  In the 1950s Minnesota became a medical place of invention centered on two institutions—the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

These pioneering healthcare organizations gained fame for inventive medical technologies and techniques.  They were supported by a tight-knit community of experienced leaders, highly skilled medical professionals and engineers, and visionary investors and entrepreneurs.  The region's growing medical-device industry came to be known as "Medical Alley." 

Gift of Edwards Life Sciences