It’s hard to predict where inspiration will strike, but studies have shown there’s a relationship between location and ideas—at least insofar as relaxing places, like the shower, tend to make you more creative than the boardroom. Is it any wonder that Alexander Graham Bell came up with his idea for the telephone in the beautiful dale near his family’s home that he called his “dreaming place?”
While it’s possible you might not come up with any world-changing ideas while visiting the homes of America’s greatest inventors, there’s a special feeling to be found looking at the places where they ate, slept, worked—and most importantly—imagined. Lucky for us, many of the homes of the nation’s most prolific scientific and technical geniuses have been preserved for the public. (Not all are located in the United States, however—“American” here refers to citizenship alone, and many inventors traveled). These are places filled with both everyday and technical artifacts that tell the larger stories behind inventions that changed the world.
At the newly opened Innovation Wing of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, visitors can explore the workstation of video game inventor Ralph Baer. The museum recreated Baer’s office, placing every book, tool, microchip and doodad in the same spot it was located in his Manchester, New Hampshire, home. But for many other inventors, you can see workshops and other spots of inspiration in their original locales. Here is just a sampling:
Hawthorn Hill, Dayton, Ohio
Several sites related to the Wright brothers' lives are available to tour, including the North Carolina location of their pioneering flight in 1903, but the home where Orville Wright lived for nearly 35 years holds special allure. (Although both Orville and Wilbur purchased the house together in 1912, Wilbur died shortly after approving the plans and before he could move in.) The younger Wright filled Hawthorn Hill with labor-saving devices of his own design, including a water softener, a toaster that could both slice and brown bread and a system of chains and rods that allowed him to control the furnace from upstairs rooms. He liked to call Hawthorn Hill his "machine for living." Later owned by the National Cash Register Corporation, the estate opened for public tours in 2007.