Annette  Bagley | 06/22/2011 | Insider Blogs |   

Sparks of Invention Fly in Bellingham

A wonderful family activity in Bellingham WA is the American Museum of Radio & Electricity (often called AMRE or the Radio Museum by locals). Located in Bellingham’s downtown arts district, AMRE is filled to overflowing with famous and quirky gadgets from technology’s past. Exhibits begin with Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment and the development of the Leyden jar to store static electricity. Franklin was one in a long line of scientists whose discoveries have brought us into the modern age.  From harnessing static electricity to creating batteries and broadcasting currents, each discovery and development has directly affected our social lives. The enthusiastic tour guides at the American Museum of Radio & Electricity are eager to tell the stories.

While on a tour of the museum with curator John Jenkins, I was amazed to be standing in front of original light bulbs created by Thomas Edison in the 1800s. I was doubly amazed to learn that the bulbs were donated to the museum by my former middle school principal. It is certainly a small world! Another display portrays a replica of the 1912 Marconi communications room on board the Titanic and describes the realization that 24-hour radio monitoring could have saved lives. A replica 1930s living room allows visitors to dial-in a vintage show on the radio, and learn how instant news and entertainment first became a part of family life. I was even treated to the sound of Thomas Edison’s voice on an original phonograph, and my son played Ode to Joy on the Theremin, a rare electronic musical instrument that is played without being touched.

In another gallery, a 9-foot Tesla Coil snapped craggy fingers of purple-blue lightening through the air at 3 million volts and sent vibrations through the floor. The sight and the sound are mostly for show, but it got my attention. It is an impressive version of the coil invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891. He had a vision for wireless transmission of electricity. A museum curator explained that Tesla once worked in Edison’s laboratory and eventually disagreed with him as to the value of Alternating Current (AC) versus Direct Current (DC). Although Edison favored DC, Tesla’s patent for a polyphase alternating current system was purchased by George Westinghouse and eventually became the basis for electricity throughout the nation. Whether you’re looking for a fun afternoon activity in Bellingham, or you’re searching for in-depth history about technology, the American Museum of Radio & Electricity is worth the visit. There is so much to see, my family and I make new discoveries with each trip. Hours are: Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. American Museum of Radio & Electricity - 1312 Bay Street, Bellingham, WA 98225 360-738-3886

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Visitor Center Located at I-5 Exit 253 - Check Hours
904 Potter Street, Bellingham, WA 98229
Phone: 360-671-3990

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