Nation of Inventors


Opening September 13, 2021!

On September 13, 2021, Hagley Museum and Library opens its newest exhibit: Nation of Inventors.  This exhibit invites visitors to explore diverse stories of American inventors through the museum’s unique collection of 19th-century patent models. Interactive activities, artifacts from famous and not-so-famous inventors, and the new Discovery Loft hands-on learning space, will inspire visitors of all ages to be innovative in their own lives.

Located in the Hagley Museum Visitor Center, Nation of Inventors is the perfect jumping-off point for the rest of the Hagley Museum experience. The famous Hagley Powder Yard, immersive Workers’ Hill community, and breathtaking du Pont ancestral home and gardens highlight stories of “Invention in Action”—centuries of innovation at the sites where it took place.

Nation of Inventors will be included with general museum admission, available for visitors during normal operating hours, and, as always, free for Hagley members.

What are patent models?

Improvement in Boats for Duck-Shooting
Patent #17,192 • May 5, 1857 • Patentee: Robert Bogle
Improvement in Brush-Making Machines
Patent #195,017 • September 11, 1877 • Patentees: Thomas Jesson and Thomas Duggan​


Nation of Inventors will feature more than 150 patent models representing a wide range of industries and innovators from the museums’ collection of more than 5,000 models. But what are patent models?

From 1790 until 1880, the U.S. Patent Office required patent applicants to submit scale models of their inventions, along with written descriptions and drawings, for examination of the U.S. Patent Office. Patent models served a practical purpose: to demonstrate key components, usefulness, and novelty of innovations across a range of industries and consumer markets. They are also fascinating miniature works of art.

Inventors produced hundreds of thousands of patent models during a “golden age” of American innovation in the 1800s. The Patent Office exhibited them to large public audiences in the galleries of Washington D.C.’s Patent Office Building.  Visitors to these galleries were treated to a dazzling display of inventions by their fellow citizens—inventions that spanned industries, were produced by inventors from all walks of life, and embodied inspiring stories of ingenuity and entrepreneurship. 

Many of these unique artifacts did not survive.  Devastating fires in 1836 and 1877 destroyed or damaged more than 100,000 models.  In 1893, the models were removed from the Patent Office and placed in storage.  In the early 20th century, the Commerce Department gradually disposed of the patent model collection.  Some were returned to the descendants of their inventors, many were accessioned by the Smithsonian, and remaining models were sold at auction.  More than 5,000 patent models have made their way to Hagley Museum and Library, where, beginning September 13, visitors can be inspired by these artifacts of innovation through Nation of Inventors. 

For more information on patent models, visit

Other Hagley Exhibit Updates

Hagley has made every effort to preserve the original Visitor Center exhibits by moving some to other locations on the property.  A few have found a new home at another museum.  Exhibits known and loved by our members and frequent visitors will find new life in the Millwright Shop in the Hagley Powder Yard alongside existing dioramas and the Machine Shop exhibit.  Forthcoming exhibits in Roll Mills 15 and 16 will introduce visitors to key du Pont family members, the relationship between the Brandywine’s natural resources and the reasons the du Ponts selected this site for their business, and the workers whose stories are an integral part of Hagley history. 

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