Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center Spotlights Hollywood’s History of Innovation

“Places of Invention” Exhibition to Feature Development of Technicolor

The Academy Awards would be much less colorful without the innovations in 1930s and ’40s Hollywood filmmaking that the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will showcase in its upcoming “Places of Invention” exhibition, set to open in 2015.

Initiative and creativity drove Hollywood’s “Golden Age”—a time of great technological change in the motion picture industry, moving from silent and black-and-white to sound and color. “Places of Invention” will highlight the invention and adoption of Technicolor, detailing the three-strip process used in The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind and reveal the people behind its success, inventors Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock and W. Burton Westcott, who set up shop in Hollywood in 1923. Also integral to its success was Natalie Kalmus, a consultant for Technicolor on many classic films who, in making decisions about makeup, costumes and lighting, controlled the aura of Technicolor.

“Our take on the Hollywood story goes behind the camera to examine the inventions that significantly changed both the way movies were made and the complexity and popularity of movies themselves,” said Art Molella, director of the center. “The Hollywood and Technicolor stories exemplify the outcomes possible when creativity and collaboration are allowed to thrive.”

The invention and evolution of Technicolor made possible such awards as Best Visual Effects while transforming Hollywood into a hot spot of innovation—a place where a critical mass of inventive people, networks, institutions and funding come together and creativity flourishes.

This year alone, six of the nine nominees for Best Picture implemented various Technicolor technologies in their films. Overall, 19 films nominated for Oscars employed Technicolor’s various offerings in their respective films.

“Places of Invention”—made possible by a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation—will feature a selection of hot spots of invention and innovation. The planned 3,500-square-foot exhibition will focus on the mid-19th century to the present and will feature hands-on experiences based on inventive skill-building and illustrating the ways that places and social collaboration shape the inventive process. For more on the exhibition, visit

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The center embodies a philosophy akin to that of the inventors we study, of valuing creativity and embracing the potential rewards of intellectual risk-taking. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy established by one of the country’s most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. The Lemelson Center is located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit

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Kate Wiley
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