The Washington Post

“The Great American Hall of Wonders” opens at the Smithsonian

What do the buffalo, Sequoia trees, Niagara Falls, the clock, the gun, and the railroad have in common? All helped set the stage for modern innovation in America.

The Great American Hall of Wonders,” the newest exhibition to open at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, showcases the boom of science and experimentation during the 19th century. Many of the patent models and drawings are returning to a familiar place because the American Art Museum building was once the location of the patent office during the Industrial Revolution.

Albert Bierstadt, "The Last of the Buffalo," about 1880. Oil on Canvas. Private Collection. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Unidentified artist. Drawing for Patent Application for Samuel Applegate's "Device for Waking Persons from Sleep," 1882 U.S. Patent No. 256265. Photo reproduction, 10 x 15 inches. (Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration)

Margaret E. Knight, "Patent Model of Machine for Making Paper Bags, 1879, U.S. Patent No. 220925, wood brass paper and paint, (Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

The collection was organized by Claire Perry, an independent curator who opens the display with a self-portrait of science pioneer Charles Willson Peale, whose studies of zoology led to his discoveries of mastodon skeletons and studies in how animals behave amongst each other within their own habitats.

The exhibition opened today and will remain through Jan. 8, 2012. For more information, visit


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