First introduced in 2012, the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards was created to recognize the previous year's shining achievements, of individuals in nine categories, who have had a revolutionary effect on how we perceive the world and how we live in it. Groundbreaking innovators are across categories including technology, performing and visual arts, natural and physical sciences, education, historical scholarship, social progress and youth achievement. The honorees embody the Smithsonian Institution's mission of increasing and diffusing knowledge.

The private, invitation-only gala awards ceremony is traditionally hosted in Washington, D.C.'s National Portrait Gallery. Honorees recognized at the awards ceremony are also featured in a special American Ingenuity Awards issue of Smithsonian as well as on Smithsonian.com.