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Goddard Space Flight Center Engineering Colloquium

Date: Monday, December 15, 1997

Promoting Creativity - The Independent Inventor: Survivor or Victim in a Corporate Age?

Speaker: Arthur P. Molella


Independent inventors like S. F. B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell were once the glory of America, identified with the American spirit and the nation's economic and social progress. Their role, however, was largely usurped in the 20th century by R&D giants, whether corporate, academic, or governmental. Independents complained bitterly that the inventing game--particularly the awarding of patents--was increasingly stacked against them. But a renewed focus on entrepreneurial values today is encouraging initiative, even within corporate settings. How does this affect the role of independent inventors? Can they co-exist with--indeed, thrive within--the worlds of modern corporate, academic, and government R&D?

The Smithsonian's new Lemelson Center has begun to collect documentation on American inventors, both independents and company people. Their dramatic personal testimony--preserved on video--sheds light on these key questions for America's technological and economic future, suggesting among other things that the individual creative spirit may be more important than ever.


Dr. Arthur P. Molella came to the Smithsonian in 1970 as an editor of the papers of Joseph Henry, eminent physicist and first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. After successfully completing four volumes, which made much of Henry's papers available to a broad audience for the first time, he assumed the position of Curator, Division of Electricity and Modern Physics at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). As a curator, he mounted two pathbreaking exhibitions, "FDR: The Intimate Presidency" and "Science in American Life". In October, 1994, Dr. Molella was named Assistant Director of the History Department at NMAH. At the same time, he inaugurated the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. In 1997, he became the Museum's Assistant Director for Interdisciplinary Initiatives. In this position, he continues to serve the Museum by developing exhibitions and programs that demonstrate the interconnectedness of knowledge as evident in history. Dr. Molella received his doctorate in the history of modern science and technology from Cornell University in 1972. In addition to his work on Joseph Henry, his publications include several articles on various scientists and philosophers, including Sigfried Giedion, Lewis Mumford, and A. P. Usher, and on the history of science and technology. He has also served as book review editor and advisory editor for Technology and Culture, the journal of the Society for the History of Technology.

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