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IEEE Global Museum on View

2 Armstrong At Feb Board Series 2023 Cropped

By: Daniel Jon Mitchell, IEEE Senior Historian

The IEEE Global Museum, presented by IEEE History Center, is gearing up for its full launch in July 2024 when its flagship traveling exhibit, Unseen Signals: Edwin H. Armstrong’s Radio Revolution, opens to the public. The exhibit, partly funded by an anonymous donor, recounts the incredible life and achievements of Edwin Howard Armstrong, the electrical engineer and wireless pioneer who in 1917 received the Institute of Radio Engineers’ first Medal of Honor (now IEEE’s highest award). It will open at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, SAMSAT, in San Antonio, TX, USA, and then travel to other major museums throughout the United States until at least 2027.

Design concept for “Unseen Signals: Edwin H. Armstrong’s Radio Revolution.” The exhibit pairs IEEE History Center research and storytelling with curated artifacts, evocative graphic design and interactive elements that explicate Armstrong’s technical breakthroughs to the layperson.

The mission of the IEEE Global Museum is to promote the profession of electrical and electronic engineering and its impact upon society by bringing museum-quality exhibits, from a single groundbreaking artifact to a full collection, to IEEE members and the public. The “global” in Global Museum reflects the reach of the IEEE community of technical professionals, the worldwide historical impact of electrotechnology, and the ambition to travel exhibits to museums, libraries, and IEEE conferences and events around the world. 

With this global vision in mind, on its next project the IEEE Global Museum has partnered with IEEE Spectrum magazine to create a highly-mobile, engaging, interactive traveling exhibit based on the IEEE Spectrum digital Chip Hall of Fame. The Chip Hall of Fame exhibit will explain why integrated circuits or microchips were designed and engineered, and reveal their varied and essential roles, such as signal processing, audio engineering, and telecommunications. It will connect opaque names like Z80, 6502, and ARM1 to products people will remember or recognize from their own lives, such as a favorite home computer or video game console from the 1980s, up to the GPS-enabled smartphones we all carry today. Funding permitting, the Chip Hall of Fame exhibit will launch in North America in late 2025. A plan to travel it worldwide is under development.

In addition to this program of public-facing traveling exhibits, the goal over the next three years is to build the capacity to create regular, temporary exhibits at major IEEE conferences across a broad range of IEEE fields of interest. One such example is the curated exhibit designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the IEEE Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (DEIS). In Charge: Technology Flows through Dielectric and Insulating Media was unveiled at the Society’s annual Conference on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena (CEIDP), held in East Rutherford, NJ, USA during October 2023. Generous artifact loans from AT&T and Nokia Bell Labs enabled us to display an original section of the first Transatlantic Telephone Cable, TAT-1, from 1956, and a prototype Western Electric EL2 electret ‘transmitter’ or microphone, which entered production in 1978. The exhibit’s most visually spectacular section charted the rise and fall of the GE and Westinghouse high voltage power engineering laboratories—from their inception during the 1920s, when major cities became electrified, through their closure during the 1980s. By this time these laboratories had made possible safe, cost-effective, long-distance high voltage power transmission.

“In Charge: Technology Flows through Dielectric and Insulating Media,” an IEEE Global Museum exhibit curated to celebrate the centennial of the IEEE Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (DEIS).

The success so far in delivering impactful exhibits has been greatly facilitated via collaborations with local and national museums, private collectors, universities, corporations, and other organizations, as well as the financial generosity of the IEEE Life Members Committee, gifts in memory of Dennis L. Shapiro, and other donors. The future of the IEEE Global Museum and its projects depends on philanthropic support. Inspired to help IEEE promote the history of technology? Contact Danny DeLiberato, CFRE at d.deliberato@ieee.org or call +1 732 562 5446 or make a gift online.

To learn more about the Global Museum’s vision and the progress of its programs, please write to Daniel Jon Mitchell, Senior Historian, at daniel.mitchell@ieee.org. A special thanks to John Impagliazzo, whose service and leadership in various roles on the IEEE History Committee led to the Global Museum’s creation.

Header Image photo caption:
Pilot version of “
Unseen Signals: Edwin H. Armstrong’s Radio Revolution” on show for the soft launch of the IEEE Global Museum at the IEEE Board Series held at the Sheraton Hotel, New York City, in February 2023.

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