Eli Whitney Museum

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The 17th Leonardo Challenge

Reflected Creativity


The Mirror
Our earliest ancestor recognized a face reflected in a pool of still water: there began the evolution of our idea of self. Ancient cultures captured reflections in stone, iron, coal, copper, silver, and glass. In mirrors, priests and magicians saw prophecies and vessels of the soul. Mirrors educated artists and scientists. As a child, you noticed your mother's furtive glance at her face in a compact's tiny glass. You suspected this attention was not for you.

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The 16th Leonardo Challenge

Cap & Caprice


A little over a hundred years ago, the tiny crown cap opened a revolution. Its tin-plated disc of thin steel, pleated round its edge, compressed a sliver of cork over the lip of a bottle's deliberately slender neck. Coca Cola escaped the confines of the Drug Store fountain. Beer left the tavern. We christened the machine age of drink.

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The 15th Leonardo Challenge

Unruly Invention


Each of us can remember the first ruler that we carried to school: in the beginning useful for drawing lines, hinting at important reckoning yet to come. You may recall improvising applications for that ruler that were neither straight nor measured. A paradox of creativity: sometimes invention requires a broken rule.

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2008 Exhibition

Gilbert and Magnetism

Perhaps it was destiny that made magnetism as essential a force in A.C. Gilbert's empire of experiments. William Gilbert – a distant ancestor of A. C. – published De Magnete, Magneticisque Corperibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and the Great Magnet the Earth), in 1600.

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The Gilbert Project

Magnetic Fun and Facts

Magnetic Fun and Facts Set

Gilbert introduced his first magnetism set in 1923. In 2008, Alex Kronman redesigned the Gilbert magnet experiments to preserve the tradition of curious exploration for a new generation of young hands.

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The 14th Leonardo Challenge

Keys to Creativity

Keys to Creativity Logo

The Challenge: Find a key. Twist the key or its meaning. Insert or duplicate or cut or connect or color or conceal keys. Assemble new forms. Unlock new meanings. Let the keys start something.

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2007 Exhibition

Gilbert the Competitor

Gilbert the Competitor

Gilbert's experience in the fourth Olympics is a story of sport, Yale, educational trends, social movements, the Olympics as an institution, politics, and a bold young man who loved to compete.

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The 13th Leonardo Challenge

Playing Hands

Leonardo and the printing press were born in the same year. The first transformation of that revolutionary communications technology was, of course, games. Playing cards, made uniform and inexpensive by Gutenberg's press, spoke a universal, popular language.

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The 12th Leonardo Challenge

Rein of Invention

Chain is as ancient as Hepaestus, the artisan god of the forge. It is an essential tool of the blacksmith’s art. With rings and hooks of chain, a blacksmith tethers the world. Leonardo draws chains as he dissects the anatomy of invention.

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2005 Exhibition

Champion of Champions

Gilbert and shepherd

Alfred Gilbert was born in 1884 in Salem, Oregon. About the same time, in Western Germany, Max von Stephanitz began to standardize a breed of yellow and grey wolf-like working dog that would become the German Shepherd. It became an icon of a simpler, purer time.

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The 11th Leonardo Challenge

Remarkable Invention

Mark McCarthy

Just as the printing press spread reading across Renaissance Europe,the pencil spread writing. Wood or metal or paper supported a carbon and clay stylus ever ready to mark, cipher, or draw.

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The Gilbert Project

Eye Contact

Gilbert Microscope Ad

A. C. Gilbert graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1909. Gilbert trained to be a physician just as modern scientific medicine... and the microscope... displaced 19th century practical medicine. Gilbert added microscope kits to his popular lines of Erector and Chemistry sets in 1934.

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