Spirit of Invention

A Path-Breaking Exhibition in China in 2018

“Spirit of Invention: Nineteenth-Century U.S. Patent Models from the Hagley Museum and Library”


Hagley Museum and Library of Wilmington, Delaware, in partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing, will present “Spirit of Invention,” a path-breaking exhibition of nineteenth-century U.S. patent models.  This unique exhibition of invention history will travel to four cities in China in 2018.

The United States Patent Office required patent seekers to submit models of their inventions with their applications from 1790 through the end of the nineteenth century. Patent models served a practical purpose: to demonstrate the key components, usefulness, and novelty of inventions.
These models represented inventions in a wide range of industries and consumer interests, including agricultural machinery, household goods, medical devices, transportation technologies, and more.

“Each patent model tells a story of ingenuity, invention, and the entrepreneurial spirit,” explains David Cole, Executive Director of Hagley.
Patent models, typically not exceeding 30 cm in any dimension, were often created by expert craftspeople to impress Patent Office examiners. “These custom-crafted, one-of-a-kind patent models represented solutions to practical problems and were viewed as compelling works of art by the public in the nineteenth century.”

“Spirit of Invention” has been designed by a team of Hagley curators and Tsinghua University students and faculty. It highlights inventors’ creativity with interactive displays using state-of-the-art technologies.  This collaboration reflects a deepening relationship between Hagley and Tsinghua University through an exchange of people, ideas, and technology that will have a lasting impact on both institutions. 

“Spirit of Invention” will engage a projected audience of more than one million visitors with historical examples of American invention, as well as encourage visitors to pursue design, discovery, and entrepreneurial projects in their own lives.


Exhibition schedule 2018:

Tsinghua University Art Museum, Beijing - March 27 to May 6
National Museum of China, Beijing - May 30 to July 29
Wuhan Yangtze River Civilization Museum - August 24 to September 24

Hagley Museum and Library gratefully acknowledges the following sponsors of “Spirit of Invention” for their leadership and support of this historic exhibition:

Presenting Sponsor

Platinum Sponsor 

The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

Gold Sponsors

Silver Sponsors 

The Anne Carter and Walter R. Robins, Jr. Foundation

The Elmon B. Duff Charitable Lead Annuity Trust 

The Peachtree House Foundation 


For more information about the exhibition, contact:

Sharon Payne, Foundation and Corporate Relations Grant Manager • spayne@hagley.org +1-302-658-2400 x221