Visit the Homes of America’s Greatest Inventors

Within these walls, our nation’s most brilliant tinkerers once ate, slept and imagined

One of 50 rooms in the Colonial Revival mansion in Rochester, New York, where George Eastman lived for 27 years. (Wikipedia)
smithsonian.com

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: 

Why Is Everyone in This Story Male?

As you may have noticed while reading about these homes, the inventors we celebrate in the United States tend to be men of a paler hue, even though the characteristics of innovation and creativity don’t discriminate by race or gender. While researching this story, I failed to find even one notable American female inventor whose house had been preserved and is now open to the public. (Private residences don't count, and neither do places that are just a closed door and a plaque.)

While there are some wonderful examples of houses that may one day be open—such as Villa Lewaro, home of America’s first self-made female millionaire Madam C. J. Walker—we’d love to hear about others we might have missed. Please tell us about your suggestions for homes of notable female inventors that can be visited now, or that should be preserved for future generations. 

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