National Inventors Hall of Fame

I don’t remember how I first learned about the National Inventors Hall of Fame, but having a child who for years has come downstairs long after bedtime to excitedly tell her weary parents about her latest invention, I knew we had to check it out. This was the summer we made the visit happen.

Our group of three (mom and two daughters, ages 7 and 12) set off on a weekday morning for the campus of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which houses the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The USPTO campus is in Alexandria and is sprawling, light and bright, with both indoor and outdoor fountains sure to enchant little ones.

We made our way up to the second floor of the Madison Building (stopping along the way to ask directions a number of times). A few feet from the entrance we noticed a model of the Old Patent Office, constructed from 67,000 Legos.

Inside the Hall of Fame, a woman working in the gift shop area greeted us. We took in the surroundings of the very small museum, which at first glance does not appear overly kid-friendly. There is a text-heavy interactive display that allows visitors to see how various inventions are interrelated, a wall of multimedia images that pays homage to well- and lesser-known inventors, and a cool display of clear hexagonal tiles that names famous inventions and their inventors. However, the girls made a bee-line for the handful of interactive exhibits – a working synthesizer and old-school computer, both of which they found fascinating.

Before heading out, we had an interesting conversation with the woman in the gift shop area. The youngest member of our group asked her if she knew who invented the umbrella. The woman went to her computer and researched the question, replying that the umbrella dates back 4,000 years to China, but was patented in the United States in 1786. She went on to excitedly tell us that the day we visited, July 31, was also the 224th anniversary of the button! She was a wealth of knowledge and inspired my daughter, saying, “When you are at school, always ask questions!”

As we left, I overheard my daughter saying to herself, “I wonder who invented the lighthouse? The toilet? The…”

The Hall of Fame’s motto is “Honor. Inspire. Challenge.” For one 7-year-old girl that morning, they certainly succeeded!

Know Before You Go

  • The National Inventors Hall of Fame is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum is closed Sundays, Mondays and federal holidays.
  • Admission is free.
  • Restrooms are located on the first floor. There are no changing tables.
  • Parking is available in the East Garage, located at 551 John Carlyle St. Our visit lasted just over two hours, and the fee was $6. Less than two hours is $3. Getting to the museum from the nearby parking garage is tricky. We stopped more than once to ask security guards on the USPTO campus if we were headed in the right direction.

After Your Visit

In partnership with the USPTO, the museum created Camp Invention, a nationally recognized program offered at various sites during the summer and as an after-school elementary enrichment program. This mom is definitely going to check it out.

Photos by Erin Link.

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