Moeko Noda

Inventions and Innovations: The Object Project

Moeko Noda

This morning, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock and went to the kitchen, where I pulled out milk from the fridge and used the toaster to make a nice breakfast. Then I changed into a blouse and skirt, which I bought at a fast fashion retailer, and came to the office.

You might be wondering why I’m describing a mundane morning routine. You will be surprised to learn that this boring account is actually filled with innovations and lifestyle revolutions, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History’s exhibition, the Object Project.

The ongoing exhibition at the Smithsonian presents familiar objects in a new light, exploring how people, things and social change shaped life as we know it now. Visitors can see and touch more than 300 objects on display, along with relevant historic documents. No worries if you cannot visit in person—the comprehensive companion website can provide a wealth of information and colorful images of the objects.

Clicking through the site tells me my morning routine is supported by amazing innovations over the years. Clocks were a phenomenon even before most people could read the time; automatic toasters first came out in the 1920s, immediately appearing on breakfast tables across the nation; and ads for refrigerators from the 1930s showed ladies in gowns and men in tuxedos, as refrigerators were luxurious items, a “style sensation.”

What is more, I learned that the skirt that I am wearing today not only owes its origin to the concept of mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing, but possibly to bicycles! When women started riding bicycles in the 1890s, they were symbols of liberation for women. Not only did the vehicle physically liberate women by offering them mobility, but they also transformed the way women dressed. Skirt lengths were shortened for smoother rides, causing a singer to wonder: “If we give them the chance, they will all wear pants! I wonder what they will do next?” Hmm, I wonder what?

Another important point that the exhibition makes, writer Rob Walker notes, is that people changed products and trends too, not just the other way round. A recent example is the MP3 player. Many people were skeptical of the gadget when it first came out, but some curious people tried it anyway, paving the way for its mass popularity and eventual revolution in the way we listen to music.

The exhibit shows that the newest cool gadget you’re considering trying out just might turn out to be an integral part of life decades down the line.

Did You Know?

The line between creative and absurd is thin when it comes to inventions. PingPong Door is a door that transforms into a table tennis table; there is a cup holder that you can attach to an umbrella; and with Kitchen Art Ham Dogger, you can transform hamburger meat into a hotdog shape whenever the occasion calls for it.

Photo Credit: Andreas Lakso

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