The Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The busiest travel day on the East Coast, and your Mother-In-Law is flying into BWI, which is a three-hour drive from your mountain home. Then, the biggest storm of the season moves across the country, drawing warm moist air from the Gulf and freezing air from the Great Lakes. On Tuesday, before the Wednesday, the line of pink ice on the radar map hovers over your cabin. Time to make a reservation at an airport hotel, and drive to Baltimore after work, rather than risk driving over ice the next morning. Her flight arrives about 11 a.m. So, what do you do from when you wake up at 6 a.m. until arrival time. As you pass the mile of hotels and franchise restaurants to find your hotel to be the last in the line. You turn the corner and notice the National Electronics Museum. Huh?
Being the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 9 a.m. we nearly had the place to ourselves. One man was in the Fundamentals of Electronics room. A teacher at the local community college arrives an announces that some of his students should be joining him. Does he really expect that his students are going to spend the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at a museum? We are delighted.
Over the next hour or so, we review electro-magnetic fields, DC and AC generators (not the rock group), tubes to transistors to semiconductors, binary coding, video cameras to cell phone camera technology, wax cylinders to gramophones to Hi-Fi to MP3 players, and radars of all sorts. Nifty!
The display contain a lot of information, so much so that we had exhausted our reading time with only half of the Fundamentals of Electronics room. We browsed through the rest of the museum, which could take quite a while to digest, unless you just like to look at square boxes of wires without knowing which are telegraph machines vs field radios vs radars, etc.
The museum started as a display of gizmos that Westinghouse made at this location. A group of employees began to assemble examples of the finished products for display to the researchers, developers, and production crews, so that at an annual event they could see what their company made for the defense and aeronautic industries. They requested to display a specific item, but were not permitted to possess one of these by the Department of Defense, unless they were a museum. With some corporate and grant funding, they established a museum, which went through a few incarnations until Northrop Grumman (now the owner of this Westinghouse division) provided them with the museum space.
One message the museum conveys is that electronics fill our lives. Thinking about this, we listened to a simple transistor style weather radio while preparing to go to work. Later, we used a computer to access the internet via a wi-fi system to check the weather radar images of the storm. Then we used the computer-internet-wi-fi system to find a hotel, make a digital registration & use our credit card, connected to a digital banking system to verify our account and transfer the funds. Our vehicle is full of electronic parts from the battery to spark plugs to gas gauges and dash-board displays. We listened to the radio picking up stations from WV, MD, and PA along the way. In one fuzzy zone, we put in a music CD to listen to. Driving in rain, we had lights on, using some of the most basic electronics that Thomas Edison experimented with 125 years ago. Electronics everywhere.
Well, the National Electronics Museum is certainly off the beaten path, but let your inner-geek have a morning there some day, when waiting for a plane to arrive at BWI.