Mousetrap 101: Patents and Innovation with Collector Alan Rothschild


Mousetrap, 1870, John O. Kopas (Inventor), George W. Bauer (Inventor), mixed media, 10 x 8 1/2 x 9 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Alan and Ann Rothschild, 2011.37.15

The American Art Museum is no stranger to invention. The building that houses the museum was formerly the United States Patent Office (President Andrew Jackson authorized the construction of the building in 1836), with thousands of patent models on display on the third floor, including one designed by President Lincoln. The building was nicknamed “The Temple of Invention,” and even now, in 2011, innovation and invention are never forgotten. In fact, the new exhibition, Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection features thirty-two models belonging to Alan and Ann Rothschild, who own four-thousand models—theirs is the largest private collection in the world. The Rothschilds have recently donated twenty-five patent models to the museum. It’s a fitting place for them, since this is where they were first exhibited back in the nineteenth century.

Alan Rothschild spoke to Charles Robertson, guest curator, and deputy director emeritus of the American Art museum, the other evening at the McEvoy Auditorium about his life as a collector and his love of patent models that began with a Saturday afternoon trip to an antique fair in upstate New York. He bought a few models and the next day, decided to go back for more. If you weren’t able to attend the dialogue, you can watch the webcast.

The exhibition, Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection remains on view through November 3, 2013. For those of you who can’t get enough invention, check out the exhibition, The Great American Hall of Wonders, on view through January 8, 2012.
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