Inventing in America

This website is based on a display that opened at the National Museum of American History in July 2015. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.


Throughout American history, innovators have created a wealth of fascinating prototypes and patent models. Thousands are preserved in the collections of this Museum. As you view these examples, consider the challenges of conceiving a new idea and crafting a physical device to prove that it works. Until 1880 a working model was required to submit a patent application. What is the essence of the innovation? How can it be clearly illustrated? What materials should be used? Will other people be convinced by the prototype?