Monday, December 18, 2017

Hagley, Smithsonian Affiliate

In 1802, E. I. du Pont set up a gunpowder plant on the banks of the Brandywine River. Many of the buildings have survived to today and the 200+ acres are known as Hagley. The name did not originate with du Pont, who bought the Hagley estate just south of his initial Eleutherian Mills in 1813. The previous owner, Richard Dawes, probably gave it that name after the village in England. The area is now a museum to technology past and present, as well as home to a library covering business, technology, and innovation. Hagley became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 2014. We visited on one of their Science Saturdays in 2017.

Our first stop was the visitor center, the 1814 cotton spinning mill (they invested in more than just gunpowder!).

Back of the visitor center

The visitor center has three floors of exhibits. The first floor shows the early history of Hagley and how the du Ponts used water power to make gunpowder.

The Brandywine River

Pre-du Pont artifacts

The original workers used the river's strength to mill many different things in many different ways. Their early-nineteenth century technology was on display.

Milling flour

Using gears for mechanical advantages

Different types of water wheels

A water turbine!

Making bricks

Gunpowder mill

Upstairs is a display of twentieth-century du Pont contributions to life through technology. A favorite of my children was the race car, for which du Pont is more than just a sponsor. Many of the parts and safety equipment are made from their products.

du Pont mobile

Almost tall enough to reach the pedals!

Tall enough to reach the wheel

Ready to turn left

An older car

Displays also describe the various synthetics the du Pont company produces and their use in everyday life.

The versatility of nylon

Another favorite display was the space suit. A small staircase lets shorter visitors show the right stuff!

A serious astronaut

Houston, we have a problem!

My first daughter in space

A happy astronaut

Other interactive displays let visitors guess whether a fabric or material is natural or du Pont-made. The comparison is a lot trickier than you would think!

Wool vs. microfiber and other challenges

We also tested the elastic properties of other synthetics, seeing which would bounce better. The testing display is enclosed, so the balls don't go all over the room!

Bouncing balls

We left the visitor center and walked down the path toward the "Easy Does It!" building. Both young and old are encouraged to try out the simple machines are on display.

Random water power

Easy Does It! Building

The kids really enjoyed the various gizmos and gadgets.



Gear shifts!

The buildings are situated close to the river, though that didn't stop the workers from diverting water even closer. The mill run let the workers control the flow more and power more machines.

Walking between the mill run and the river

Mill run with river in distance

Thanks to Science Saturday, we had plenty of opportunity to learn about simple machines and applied mechanics from local high schoolers volunteering at Hagley.

Learning about telegraphs

Trying out pulleys, seeing how size matters

Pulleys making weights weightless!

We walked up a small hill (really more of an inclined plane) to the Power Plant, where the main activity was building trophies!

Power Plant (not the fanciest building ever)

The trophy challenge was to situate a ball on top of the highest structure (the trophy) a child could design. Our preschooler needed some help with his, but managed a respectable size.

A tennis trophy almost as tall as me!

My daughter was more ambitious and took more time.

Working on a softball trophy

Adding a little flourish

A final product?

Using foundations and properly balanced loads was the scientific part of it but I think the kids were mostly unaware of the science they were doing. My daughter had the tallest softball trophy so far that day.

Rankings at lunchtime

We saw some fancy gears on the wall too, though never saw the power plant in action.

Gear wall

The estate also has the black powder mill and supporting buildings, the Workers' Hill area showing the lifestyle of the nineteenth-century workers, and the Eleutherian Mills, where the du Pont family lived. We didn't see any of these but will definitely go back at some point to learn more history, use more science, and have more fun!

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