The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History on Wednesday opened a new 'American Enterprise' exhibit showcasing more than 600 objects, images, activities and videos to explain the evolution of business and innovation in America.
The exhibit walks visitors through four chronological eras: the Merchant Era (1770s–1850s), the Corporate Era (1860s–1930s), the Consumer Era (1940s– 1970s) and the Global Era (1980s–2010s).
Part of the exhibit includes a focus on agriculture through display of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, a Fordson tractor, Barbara McClintock's microscope and Stanley Cohen's recombinant DNA research notebook.
These innovations, the Smithsonian says, will demonstrate the development in agriculture that ranges from machines that increased productivity to science that gave insight to the genetic structure of plants.
As part of the exhibit, visitors can light the "Tower of Power," take the Farming Challenge or start a cat food business as manufacturing, retail and service, and technology in American business remains the underlying theme.
"Our goal is to make history essential by presenting the compelling ideas and ideals of America and animating them through transformative experiences," said John Gray, the museum's director.
"'American Enterprise' chronicles the tumultuous interaction between capitalism and the common good, which is fundamental to understanding our history and our global role."
Additional artifacts on display related to agriculture include two items donated by Monsanto: a photograph of Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley with the world’s first genetically modified petunia, circa 1983, and a photograph of the planting of the first genetically modified crop field trials in Jerseyville, Ill., in 1987.
"Agricultural innovation has transformed this country from an agrarian society to an urban one," Fraley wrote in a blog announcing the artifact donation and opening of the exhibit. "It’s enabled farmers to produce far more on the same amount of land with less labor, bringing down the cost of a balanced meal to families across the country, making nutritious food more accessible to everyone."
In 2013, the Smithsonian began collecting stories and information to share in the American Enterprise exhibit, and launched an Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive, which housed stories about precision farming, food-borne illness tracking, environmental concerns, government practices, irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds.
The institution also collected five FFA jackets to share in the exhibit in 2014, belonging to: former FFA member and U.S. President Jimmy Carter; the first African American national FFA president and the first national president from an urban chapter, Corey Flournoy; family farmer Jesse Godbold; the first female to be named "Star Farmer," Karlene Lindow Krueger; and former FFA chapter sweetheart and current USDA National Agricultural Library information specialist, Mary Louise Reynnells.
The Museum said they would be displayed one at a time so as to help conserve the sensitive textiles.
Near the jackets is a recreation of a modern tractor cab, complete with steering wheel, guidance controls, and yield monitors. Sitting in the driver's seat, visitors will face tough questions, and be asked to formulate decisions, "likening farming to the role of a CEO in a large firm where processing large amounts of information quickly and accurately is key," the Smithsonian said.
See more photos of the exhibit, provided by the Smithsonian Museum >>