2014 Ingenuity Awards
“Innovate or die” isn’t just a Silicon Valley mantra, it is the unofficial motto of the human race. Creativity is hard-wired into us. We’re always busy developing thumbs or brainstorming a better way to trap a mouse or compose a song.
Still, there is something very American about the celebration of innovation. We don’t just create and buy inventions, we turn inventors into celebrities. We know them on a first-name basis, from Ben to Alexander to Thomas to Henry to Steve to Elon. We put them on magazine covers and in movies, and scour their biographies not only for the inspiration of their eureka moments but for lessons about the way to live our everyday lives. Perhaps all this is inevitable in a country that was itself founded on an experiment.
The Smithsonian Institution has played a starring role in the celebration of invention since 1881, when what was then called the National Museum opened its doors in the grand, polychrome brick structure we know as the Arts and Industries Building. Inventions once displayed there—the Star-Spangled Banner and the Wright Flyer—are so iconic they would become centerpieces of great new facilities, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum. Yet the Arts and Industries Building, once the cutting edge, has fallen on hard times. It was named one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places eight years ago because of its deteriorating condition, and remains closed. Recently, federal funding covered substantial renovations, but the work isn’t done and there are no immediate plans to reopen the beloved old showcase of invention.
In that spirit of honoring innovation, we present our annual American Ingenuity Awards. We profile ten of the most creative people in America today. And we’ve challenged ourselves to present them in innovative forms. We crowdsourced a portrait of Kimberly Bryant and her transformational organization Black Girls Code. Jeff MacGregor has written an epic poem about filmmaker Bill Morrison and his epic film. And we’ve translated the achievements of the physicist Francis Halzen into a graphic novel.
—Michael Caruso, Editor in Chief