Build a better mousetrap



Legend has it that that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” The Sage of Concord actually said, “If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.” Although Emerson was misquoted, his idea is powerful and enduring—so powerful, in fact, that the U.S. Patent Office has issued thousands of patents for mousetraps, more than any other machine.

Right now several mousetraps are on display in the artifact wall on the first floor of the museum. But why mousetraps? According to Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld, Deputy Chair of the Division of Home and Community Life, “We chose them to represent technology because the drive to ‘build a better mousetrap’ symbolized to us the American drive to innovate.” Here are just a few of the ingenious devices Americans have devised over the years:

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Can't see the slideshow above? Visit our Flickr set to see the mousetraps.

Have you ever invented something? What drives you to create new ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Ben Miller is an intern with the New Media program at the National Museum of American History.