Back in North America, everyone knows the Smithsonian and the wonderful Air and Space Museum in particular, but there is much more to the Air and Space than meets the eye. On show is only a small portion of the museum's inventory. While at the museum, you can book to go and see the Paul E. Garber facility. Looking at the website, it seems this has grown and split, but dig into it and you won't be sorry. When we were visiting they were reconditioning the Enola Gay and they took my son up into the cockpit to sit at the controls.
On a par with the Smithsonian is the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. This is a little ghoulish in places (e.g., the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot while watching a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. and the limousine Kennedy was riding in when he was shot in Dallas), but also had exhibits on topics like the evolution of the household appliance along with some early aircraft (did you know that Ford made those as well?). Meanwhile, Greenfield Village boasts exhibits like Edison's Menlo Park lab, the Wright Brother's workshop, and -- of course -- some of Ford's factories.
My wife and I went on vacation to Nova Scotia (Canada). After travelling around a bit (you have got to see the Hopewell Rocks where there are 50-foot tides), we came to a town called Baddeck. I had taken Bill Bryson's book Made in America with me, and that night I was reading about how Alexander Graham Bell had invented a metal detector to find the location of the bullets lodged in President Garfield's body. According to the book, he failed because he ended up detecting the metal bedsprings instead. The next day, as is the wont of coincidences, we went to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada (Bell had a home in Baddeck) where -- among other things -- was this selfsame metal detector (they didn't say anything about the bedsprings though). In addition to his main claims to fame, Bell was a pioneer in flight and he was also involved with the world water speed record -- there are artifacts of these at this site as well as early telephones and the like.
I have just returned from a visit to Provence, France. The Pont Du Gard is amazing and the on-site museum details how the Romans actually managed to build it, although I still don't know how they managed to get the water course to be consistently downhill over many miles . Fascinating, but I pity the slaves.
And if you want to drive your partner crazy, take him or her to the John M. Mossman Lock Collection, which is housed at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York building in midtown Manhattan. This collection represents one of the most complete anthologies of bank and vault locks in the world, with more than 370 locks, keys, and tools dating from 4000 BC to the modern day. Even if you are one of the geekiest of geeks, visiting this collection will cause your "geek quotient" to move up a notch. I found this collection to be really intriguing, especially the development of safe locks in response to the use of gunpowder as shown in all the old Westerns.
And, talking of movies, if you are visiting Toronto, there is the MZTV Museum, which is devoted to the history of television with special emphasis on the physical appearance of the devices. While remembering the models owned by your parents and neighbors, you may also recognize the TV console that was used in The Graduate. Despite the fact that it is not far away from Toronto, I have yet to visit the Hammond Museum of Radio, which I have heard is more than worth the trip.
The museums and other facilities mentioned here are only a few of the places I've visited while trekking around the world. If you are interested, I am sure I could write several more columns on other places I have visited that have a more general appeal outside of engineering. In the meantime, what are your favorite science, technology, and engineering-related locations and facilities to visit?