A museum of American innovation should encompass more than our high tech achievements.
If you doubted that the Smithsonian is the favorite piñata of the Washington Post, consider Steven Pearlstein's column on proposals to build a Latino museum in the old Arts and Industries Building. In its place he endorses another project:
An informal group comprised of academics, technologists and think-tank executives, calling themselves Makers on the Mall, have come together to push this idea with Congress, the Smithsonian and the Washington tourist industry. Their next stop will be at the corporate headquarters of some of the country's leading technology companies, and my guess is the executives will see the logic of providing financial support for a national museum celebrating American ingenuity and industrial competitiveness that might help to excite a new generation of American inventors and tinkerers. With backing and encouragement from Congress and the White House, the group should be able to handily raise the endowment necessary to renovate and operate the museum.
What has made the United States the most powerful and affluent nation on Earth has not only been its ability to attract ambitious immigrants from all of the world, but also its knack for discovering and commercializing the latest technology. It is part of our common heritage and it most desperately needs to be part of our common future. ...
The name? That's easy. The National Museum of Arts and Industry.
Mr. Pearlstein doesn't mention that the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History already has the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation with a mandate for documenting and encouraging ingenuity, although its display space is limited. (I'm a research affiliate, but my opinions in this post and otherwise are not necessarily theirs.)
Since I haven't found a statement by Makers on the Mall, or a list of the sponsors, I can't comment on the group itself. In fact, I can imagine heartily endorsing its plans. But at the moment, their home page redirects only to a months-old Forbes Magazine column.
Unfortunately Mr. Pearlstein's statement also leaves too many questions. First among them is whether such a museum is to be one of American manufacturing -- as the original 1876 Philadelphia exposition once housed in the building reflected the post-Civil War boom -- or whether it will be a shrine to high-tech self-promotion. Nationally, Apple Stores do the latter better than any museum could, and I love to visit them. But they're about American design and marketing ingenuity, and Apple has not been known for openness about how or even where its products are made.