As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are temporarily closed. We are not announcing a reopening date at this time and will provide updates on our website and social media.

Profile profile for smithmo

Monica M. Smith

Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation

Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate, Georgetown University, 2016

B.A. in History, Pomona College, 1992

Monica M. Smith is the Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation for the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. She oversees conceptual and logistical planning for exhibitions, including serving as project director, grant principal investigator, and co-curator for the in-progress Game Changers exhibition, the award-winning Places of Invention exhibition currently on display at NMAH, and the previous award-winning Invention at Play traveling exhibition, all three of which received prestigious $1.5-2.8 M grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Monica has served on many other exhibition teams as a historian and interpretive planner and also helps develop and manage myriad Lemelson Center public programs and other activities, including workshops, publications, and research initiatives about the history of invention and innovation in America and informal invention education.

 

Research Specialties: 

U.S. history and process of invention and innovation, ranging from sports technologies and the invention of the electric guitar to the role of place, community networks, and relationships among invention, creativity, and play. I have a particular interest in the role of women and minorities in the innovation ecosystem and the challenges they face.

Projects: 

Exhibition project roles include:

  • Project Director, Co-curator, and $1.8M NSF grant Principal Investigator, Game Changers exhibition (in development)
  • Project Director, Co-curator, and $2.8M NSF grant Principal Investigator, Places of Invention exhibition, opened 2015 (ongoing)
  • Curatorial team member, Making a Modern MuseumCelebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History, 2014
  • Interpretive Planner, Time and Navigation, a joint NMAH-National Air and Space Museum exhibition, NASM, opened 2013
  • Project Historian and second Project Director and $1.5M NSF grant Principal Investigator, Invention at Play traveling exhibition (two national touring versions), 2002-2011
  • Interpretive Planner, Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson’s Legacy exhibition, 2006
  • Curatorial team member, Who Invented the Environment? exhibition, 1998, and Color Sells exhibition, 1997
  • Co-curator, From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric Guitar exhibition and complementary web site, 1996
Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 
  • Places of Invention won the Smithsonian's inaugural 2017 Excellence in Exhibitions Award.
  • Places of Invention won the international Society for the History of Technology's 2016 Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits.
  • As a member of the Lemelson Center team, Monica received the 2013 NMAH Peer Award for Risk-Taking.
  • In 2010 the Smithsonian Channel film "Electrified: The Guitar Revolution," featuring Monica as a speaker, won a CINE Golden Eagle Award.
  • Invention at Play won the American Alliance of Museums' 2003 Excellence in Exhibition Award and also won a 2003 MUSE Gold Medal Award for its companion website.
Professional Affiliations: 
  • American Alliance of Museums and its National Association for Museum Exhibition
  • Museum Education Roundtable (Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Museum Education, 2005-2008)
  • National Council on Public History
  • Rotary Club of Washington, DC (Chair, History Committee; former member of Board of Directors and Chair of the Membership Committee)
  • Society for the History of Technology

Publications

"Sports Innovator Howard Head" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, September 8, 2020.

The engineer behind Head skis and Prince tennis rackets revolutionized both sports.

"Disaster Board Games" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, April 9, 2020.

Board game inventions can help us cope with crises like Covid-19.

"How Do We Know Exactly When the New Year Begins?" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, December 30, 2019.

Appreciating the invention of standardized time zones as the calendar turns to 2020.

"Inspirational 'Innovative Lives'" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, August 13, 2019.

Celebrating twenty-four years—and counting—of highlighting diverse inventors and innovators in the Lemelson Center’s “Innovative Lives” program series.

"Human Computation Pioneer Luis von Ahn" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, April 3, 2019.

Meet Guatemalan-born Luis von Ahn, winner of the 2018 Lemelson-MIT Prize honoring world-changing inventors!

"Lost Histories of African American Inventors" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, February 2, 2018.

In a book written especially for kids, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shares fascinating stories you probably don't know about 16 historical and contemporary African American inventors.

"Lincoln Logs Inventor John Lloyd Wright" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, August 23, 2018.

Yes, this popular childhood toy was designed by none other than the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright!

"Spencer, Percy LeBaron." In American National Biography, April  26, 2018.

Online biographical profile of inventor Percy Spencer (1894-1970), who is best known for his discovery of microwave cooking but also earned the US Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his magnetron research at Raytheon.

"Meet Lonnie Johnson, the Man Behind the Super Soaker" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, January 26, 2017.

Get to know engineer Lonnie Johnson, founder and president of Johnson Research and Development Co., who invented the wildly-popular Super Soaker water gun, worked on high-performance Nerf dart guns, and focuses today on inventions related to clean energy.

"O Canada! Inventors from Across the Border" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, November 10, 2017.

A blog post inspired by visitor stories submitted to our Places of Invention exhibition map about Canadian inventors and inventions.

"Highlighting Hispanic Inventors and Innovators" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, September 22, 2017.

A few stories of often overlooked inventors and innovators in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

"The Devil is in the Details: Researching an Inventor's Biography" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, November 16, 2016.

The quest to confirm biographical details about the life and work of radar researcher and microwave oven inventor Percy Spencer.

"The Summer Olympics Starring Scientists and Engineers" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, August 11, 2016.

The unsung heroes behind the 2016 Summer Olympics are the scientists and engineers whose inventions and innovations help these athletes strive toward the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

"Exploring Sports and Innovation at the Lemelson Center" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, June 9, 2016.

 

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This often paraphrased quote inspired me to think about the “how” in terms of sports and innovation.

"Why There? Why Then? Examining Places of Invention." Dimensions 18, no. 3 (May-June 2016): 30-35.

This article in the bimonthly journal of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) provides an overview of the  Places of Invention (POI) project, including the exhibition and public programs at NMAH and with Smithsonian Affiliate project partners, as well as POI-related questions that could be adapted by other museums for public programs and oral history projects.

"Playful Invention, Inventive Play." International Journal of Play 5, no. 3 (July 2016): 244-261.

This peer-reviewed article shares the Lemelson Center's primary and secondary research behind the award-winning Invention at Play exhibition regarding connections among play, child development, creativity, and invention.

"Places of Invention Project." With Arthur P. Molella. Inventors Digest 31, nos. 2-3 (February and March 2015).

Provides an overview of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History and its Places of Invention exhibition project. Reprinted from Technology and Innovation 16, nos. 3-4 (2014): 175-185.

“Medical Alley, Minnesota (1950s): Tight-Knit Community of Tinkerers Keeps Hearts Ticking.” In Places of Invention, edited by Arthur P. Molella and Anna Karvellas, 86-109, Washington, DC Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2015.

Places of Invention tells the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems, and sometimes failed--all in the pursuit of something new. It dispels the myth of the lone inventor and shows that invention and innovation abound--not just in the Silicon Valleys of America but in hometowns across the country.

"The Woman Inventor Behind 'Monopoly'" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, March 26, 2015.

The invention process can be messy. Case in point: the invention of the board game "Monopoly."

"The Electric Guitar's Long, Strange Trip" What It Means to Be American website (February 10, 2015)

Exploring the invention history of the electric guitar from its acoustic origins to Eddie Van Halen's "Frankenstein" or "Frankenstrat" guitar.

"Inspiring Inventor: Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014)" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, June 24, 2014.

Monica Smith pays homage to Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of Kevlar® and a great friend to the Lemelson Center, who passed away in 2014.

"The Lemelson Center's Places of Invention Project" With Arthur P. Molella. Technology and Innovation 16, nos. 3-4 (2014): 175-185.

This peer-reviewed article provides an overview of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History and its Places of Invention exhibition project. Reprinted in two parts in Inventors Digest  31, nos. 2-3 (February and March 2015).

"A Twist of Fate: The Invention of the Rubik's Cube" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, July 15, 2014.

In 1974, Ernő Rubik thought up the idea for the Rubik’s Cube in order to help teach three-dimensional design to his students. Today the number of Rubik’s Cubes sold worldwide is estimated at about 350 million.

"'Places of Invention' Exhibition Overview" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, April 9, 2014.

Places of Invention is a family-friendly exhibition developed by the Lemelson Center and on display at the National Museum of American History. Featuring six communities that represent a fascinating array of people, places, time periods, and technologies, the exhibition shows visitors what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together.

"Who Invented Labor Day?" From the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center Blog Series, https://invention.si.edu/blog, August 30, 2013.

Labor Day is "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers." But who invented the holiday?

Pages