American Enterprise is a large exhibition with 7,500 square feet of exhibit space. The exhibition has one entrance and one exit, and it is arranged chronologically. Down the two long walls at the front and back of the gallery, there are two exhibits. The back wall features a display highlighting inventors and entrepreneurs from American history and their inventions and innovations. Along the front wall, where the entrance and exit are located, is a history of advertising. Lined up in parallel rows vertically across the center of the room are four long, rectangular display cases that represent different time periods. Moving from the entrance to the exit, they are: the Merchant Marketplace, the Corporate Marketplace, the Consumer Marketplace, and the Global Marketplace. Items in these cases are arranged chronologically from left to right. This organization, combined with a design that features neutral colors and clean, sharp lines, gives the space an impression of efficiency and economy that is in contrast to the abundance of visually-enticing objects inside the cases.
Paul Revere Silver Sugar Tongs
Sugar tongs made by Paul Revere, silver, about 1792
This object is a set of silver sugar tongs made by Paul Revere. They are part of a larger display along the exhibition’s back wall featuring inventors and entrepreneurs from American history and their inventions and innovations. The display is arranged chronologically with earlier inventors to the left and later inventors to the right. The tongs are displayed on the far-left side in a small, square case approximately two feet off the ground. The case is inset into the wall so that the tongs are only visible from the front. The label tells us that these sugar tongs are silver and were made by Paul Revere in 1792. The tongs are u-shaped with small scoops on either end for picking up sugar cubes. Delicate decorative etchings cover the outside edges. On the outside of the u-bend, the handle is wide enough to accommodate the engraved mark of Paul Revere’s silver shop. The mark is a shield enclosed in an oval decorative band. To the left of the display case is an image of Paul Revere from a painting by John Singleton Copley and a label with additional information.
Edison Talking Doll
Edison talking doll, about 1890
This object is a doll made by Thomas Edison. It is part of a larger display along the exhibition’s back wall featuring inventors and entrepreneurs from American history and their inventions and innovations. The display is arranged chronologically with earlier inventors to the left and later inventors to the right. The doll sits in a case approximately three feet off the floor and is displayed alongside an Edison lightbulb. The case is inset into the wall so that the doll is only visible from the front. The label tells us that this is an Edison talking doll, made around 1890. The doll stands approximately two feet tall. While its head, arms, and legs are a pale beige flesh tone, its torso is a dull silver metal. The doll is hairless, and its only clothes are knee-high, red knit stockings and black leather Mary Janes with rosette details. Its face is dominated by piercing blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and a child’s cupid’s bow mouth. Small pieces of wood make up both shoulder joints, and across the collarbone area of the tinny metal torso are perforations that, paired with a tiny phonograph invented by Edison, allowed the doll to talk. This phonograph is also on display in the case to the right-hand side of the doll. It is approximately five and a half inches tall and consists of a metal funnel with two discs suspended vertically underneath it. Next to the case is an image of Thomas Edison.
Tea chest, late 1700s
Tea chest, late 1700s
George Washington owned this Chinese-made tea chest. Merchants imported many grades of tea at different prices, enabling nearly all Americans to enjoy tea.
The tea chest object is part of a larger display called “The China Trade,” which explores the way American merchants traded with China in the 1700s and 1800s. The full display shows a large portrait of a Chinese merchant in the background, and an array of objects, including an ornate fan, a porcelain bowl, and a glass bottle containing ginseng. The case is viewable from two sides.
To one side, and raised off the floor of the case, sits the tea chest. The chest is about the size of a hat box—a square about one foot wide on each side and a little over one foot tall. It has a delicate metal lock, handles, and hinges. On each side is a hand-painted scene done in traditional Chinese style, showing men and woman interacting with each other in gardens and among trees. While the paint is faded now, the colors of red, blue, green, and yellow are still vibrant. The painted paper covering the chest is worn and flaking in parts, though it is still clear it was a very special and decorative object. The white background is yellowed, which makes the chest seem to glow under the exhibition lights. Though the chest isn’t open, I wonder if the inside still smells of tea.
Mr. Peanut Figure
In the case above, a selection of spokes characters, 1910s–1990s
Elsie the Cow
Tony the Tiger
Campbell's Soup Kids
Morris the Cat
The Mr. Peanut figure is part of a larger display on spokes characters used to advertise businesses and goods. The case is about two feet off the ground. Mr. Peanut is the largest figure, about two feet tall, and sits toward the front center of the case, surrounded by smaller well-known spokes figures like a California Raisin and Bullseye, the Target dog.
The Mr. Peanut figure is three-dimensional, made of cast-iron, and weighs over 300 pounds. It has the body of a brown peanut, with arms and legs, and a smirking face drawn toward the top. Mr. Peanut is a dapper fellow, wearing a monocle over one eye, and dressed in a tuxedo, white gloves, and sharp, slightly heeled shoes. His head is covered with a black top hat. He leans to our left on a black cane, and strikes a jaunty, relaxed pose, with one leg crossed over the other and a hand on his hip.