American innovation on display in new Smithsonian exhibit

Peter Liebhold on what to look for at the American Enterprise exhibit at the National Museum of American History


Ever wanted to get the story behind Eli Whitney's cotton gin and how it laid the ground work for the economic development of Apple’s iPhone?

Just in time for the Fourth of July, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Wednesday opened its new "American Enterprise" exhibit, giving visitors a closer look at American innovation and business from the mid-1700s to the present.

Peter Liebhold, chair of the Division of Work and Industry at the National Museum of American History spoke to about the exhibit highlights.

"Our feeling is to understand who we are as a nation and who we are as people, you really have to do it through the prism of business," Liebhold said. "It’s an exciting story with real people, activities, heroes, winners and losers."

One winner is legendary American innovator Thomas Edison. On display is the oldest light bulb he created along with one of his early failures: a talking baby doll.

"[Edison] invents the notion of recorded sound and tries to monetize it by creating a talking baby doll and it's a total flop in the marketplace," Liebhold said. "We call it the creepy baby doll."

Liebhold said it was important for the exhibit to focus on the notion of both winners and losers in American history.

"In the United States a failure doesn't mean the end of your life," Liebhold said. "Risk taking is something that's really encouraged."