For inspiration and relaxation this Sunday afternoon, I toured the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I was drawn there by an exhibition titled The Great American Hall of Wonders, examining nineteenth-century American belief that Americans shared a special genius for unbridled innovation, exploration, and discovery.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a national treasure, occupying a noble historic building that housed the Patent Office during our Industrial Revolution.

Models and schematic drawings submitted with patent applications were displayed, from the genius — steam engines, clocks, guns, trains, lights — to the absurd, like the “device with which to awake persons sleeping”. This gem featured a chandelier-like array of tubing that, upon the desired awaking time would be dropped on the head of the sleeper, “so as to wake them but not to harm them”.  Heh? I’d take Fred Flintstone’s squawking bird any day…

DEVICE FOR WAKING PERSONS FROM SLEEP

The exhibit also deftly integrated subjects from nature that helped to shape America during the period and reinforce the wide blue yonder of possibilities: the buffalo, giant sequoia and Niagara Falls.

Since Aubrey is immersed in the world of museums, she’s given me a new appreciation for the purpose and presentation of exhibits. My list of places to see in D.C. is a mile long, but I’m saving the top choices until the holidays, once she, Ann and Scott are here with me.

Our founding fathers put forth a valuable legacy for us: a belief in the transformative power of American inventiveness. I also came across a portrait gallery depicting notable Americans — transformative in their own right — from the military, literature, politics and music.  Louis Armstrong, General Marshall, Ernie Pyle, F Scott Fitzgerald, Eleanor Roosevelt.

As I immerse myself in my work of helping innovative U.S. companies conquer new markets worldwide, I can think of no better inspiration than the wonders of American innovation.