Where can you find Leyden jars, Volta canisters, an original Theremin, the first dial telephone, thousands of vintage radios, and hundreds of other unique artifacts associated with electricity? No, not at the Smithsonian Institution (although they might have a few). Stop at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, Washington. Whether you’re interested in history or just want to see weird but world-changing devices, this modest museum has it all. And if you visit on weekends, you can also experience the power of four million volts of electricity demonstrated by the nine-foot tall “MegaZapper” — one of Nikola Tesla’s largest coils found in North America!
If you don’t consider yourself the geeky, science type, you’ll still enjoy Spark. The Museum literally gives you an easy introduction to the world of electricity and radio, beginning with Sir William Gilbert’s revolutionary book from 1600, De Magnete. From there, the displays make it easy to follow the discoveries of Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Alessandro Volta, Heinrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, and others. Even if you don’t recognize all those names, their work is displayed alongside early telephones, radios, and gramophones you can relate to. The museum signage doesn’t just label objects, it provides an interesting background story as well.
In addition to rare relics invented and used by pioneers of science, the Museum’s collections also include broadcasting technology and memorabilia that would have been found in living rooms during the Golden Age of Radio. Heck, you might even recognize one of the early television sets from your own childhood! Remember all those vacuum tubes that often burned out? All shapes and sizes can be seen here en masse. There’s also a full-scale replica of the Marconi wireless room from the Titanic, one of the original four telephones used in the first trans-continental telephone call in 1915, and even the first electric arc lamp built in Paris in 1857 (a full 22 years before Thomas Edison perfected his incandescent lamp). The history covered here is amazing!
The Museum also operates KMRE-LP 102.3 FM, a non-commercial, community-based Low Power radio station you can listen to via the Internet. And if you’re traveling through Bellingham with school-aged kids, be assured they’ll have so much fun with hands-on activities and experiments, that they won’t even realize they’re learning basic physics.
The Spark Museum of Electrical Invention is definitely a place for adults and kids alike to find a little “shock and awe” — the kind that educates and entertains and sparks your own excitement about science.
IF YOU GO:
Spark Museum of Electrical Invention
1312 Bay St.
Bellingham, Washington 98225
Museum Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11am to 5pm
Museum Admission: $6 Adults, Children $3
MegaZapper Electrical Show Saturday and Sunday only at 2:30 pm, $5 all seats
(not recommended for children under 4 years of age)
For fresh, hand-made, delicious donuts that are truly out of this world, visit Rocket Donuts (two minute walk from the museum) located at 306 W Holly St. (corner of Holly and Bay Streets). The shop’s 1950s Sci-Fi memorabilia and décor is a real blast from the past!
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com