A full plate of history

Unless you really sat down and thought about it, the Mason jar probably doesnt come across as anything special.

Somewhat ubiquitous, more modern technologies and its many uses a container for homemade pickles and relishes or as a simple, informal drinking glass overshadow any notion that the jar was once revolutionary. But when John L. Mason invented the new glass container in 1859, it was just that.

The same could be said for other outwardly ordinary kitchen goods like microwaves and table condiments. And its just not right; in their own time, most elements of a working kitchen or pantry were once cutting edge.

Now, with last weeks opening of the new exhibit at the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum, Inventive Eats: Incredible Food Inventions, those histories can be found a short walk from the King Street Metro Station.

Many of the pieces were introduced and became fixtures of American eating during the 20th century: Teflon-coated pans, Popsicles and Spam.

Even the elder markers on the display George Washington Carver for his work with peanuts, sweet potatoes and pecans, or Joseph Glidden with his barbed wire to tame the open pastures of the West still affect what reaches our stomachs today.

Food, it seems, is a great unifier and made perfect sense for the museums next rotating exhibit, according to designers-slash-curators Laurie Mobley and Mitch Scott.

Its a topic of interest, first of all, with a mass appeal and we have a number of inductees, said Scott. Were kind of limited on space but we tried to get a fair representation.

The year-long display, combining the best of the Food Network and the History Channel in tangible form, is located on the first floor of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the Carlyle neighborhood. It isnt quite your grandmothers kitchen, but its close.

In fact, a recessed portion of the main presentation space features a replica of a 1955 kitchen that couldve been found in Anywhere, U.S.A.

Theres a two-slice toaster thats about as sleek as a tackle box, a first-generation electric range replete with a Teflon pan and Corningware and a 1951 GE refrigerator. And in case you forget what time it is, you can check the vintage teapot-clock on the wall.

The centerpiece artifact sure to wow is one of the very first microwave ovens produced for home use. About 2 feet wide and nearly 3 feet tall, the silver monstrosity is one of just two known to remain from the original sale date in 1955, museum officials said.

Its kind of a neat piece in the fact that microwaves were so big at the time, Scott said. It cost $1,500 in 1955, which was more than a car, so they didnt make too many, obviously.
Between the hall of fame inductees more than 400 and other innovators, the task of pulling it all together was not an easy one.

There was so much to cull through, we broke the wall down into categories, Mobley said. Based on that, we tried to find the most interesting stories in each category.

From the birth of Spam and Hormel chili, to the advent of mobile refrigeration units and the humble beginnings of the corn flake, theres plenty to learn about what comprises your diet.

One section deals with food marketing devices and chances are you know all of the players in the lineup: Mr. Peanut, the Green Giant and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Mr. Peanut, cane and all, has been around since about 1917 and the others came along in the decades to follow, but even 40-plus years later, theyre still international pitchmen asking hungry legions to take a bite.

The Green Giant and the Pillsbury Doughboy are always in the top 10 of most recognized icons in advertising, Mobley said. Theyve been around forever and people still connect with them.

Inventive Eats: Incredible Food Innovations is located on the first floor of the U.S. Patent and Trademark complex at 600 Dulany Street. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free.

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