“We first had the idea for the museum when we realised that there is nowhere celebrating British inventions in this way. In America we are too patriotic – in Britain it’s the other way. People had a view that celebrating these inventions meant celebrating people who were too white and too middle class – but many of these inventors had left school by the age of 12! Whether you’re from the UK or have adopted it, The Travelling Museum aims to give us all a blast of collective pride”.

“From the beginning the museum was intended to be about invention, although I think it could work for anything. But the public is especially tickled by invention and its many stories. Using a bus is important – it’s not intimidating and everything is in one place which makes things more digestible.”

The bus is filled with 100 of Britain’s most important inventions, discoveries and social innovations. From the jet engine to the NHS, the bicycle to penicillin, gravity to radar, the museum features a roll call of British achievement. The trick is how to fit 100 inventions into such a small space? Inventions are packed into nine-themed cabinets of wonders and visitors then choose their own themed bus route and select 10 locked boxes to which they are given the keys.

“In order to select the inventions that would form the final 100, we went to the RSA, the Royal Institution, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. We asked them to help us decide what should be included. Then we had to work out how to show off each of these inventions. We commissioned work from artists to help tell the story of the objects.“

Travelling Museum exhibit
Travelling Museum exhibit

“Perhaps the trickiest element was telling the story of each invention with just 300 words on each object. The idea is not to give deep knowledge but to grab people’s interest and make them want to find out more. We then provide a link back to the museums that are relevant to each invention and encourage visitors to find out more about those objects that particularly interest them. The idea of unlocking individual cabinets has proved to be right because it limits what people can see and therefore helps to provide focus.”

“Every object can be touched and interacted with. What we wanted to do was intrigue people in 3 minutes and make them want to find out more. We knew it couldn’t be conventional story-telling, so we created our cabinets of wonders which all feature different layers. The story telling is the most important element. It needs to engage people and communicate in a voice that is not too scholarly, patronizing or silly. We look for different ways to engage and make people interested and proud, because when we celebrate what we’re good at, we all share in the pride at these accomplishments.”

With grants from The Scottish Government via the Talking Science Grant and The Royal Academy of Engineering the project has also been supported by First Bus who have provided the all important travelling element – the bus.

The bus is currently touring Scotland, where local councils can apply to have the bus in their area for a week at a time. They are then responsible for setting up the places where it will go; shopping centres, factories, call centres and schools. The museum is designed to appeal to people of all ages. As long as it’s travelling around, it is reaching new audiences. This means, as Hiller says, “it’s visiting people who already like science – and people who didn’t know that they did”.

External bus design – Alice Roche

Exhibiting artists – Caldwell Akers, Tracy Allen, Omri Azaria, Nuno Benoliel, Godfried Donkor, Sarah Doyle, Kojo Essuman, Guy Gatier, Adrian Godwin, Miyuki Kasahara, Carine Lacroix, Jess Linares, Jessica Miles, Frog Morris, Rebecca Muir, Joseph Munday, Amy Pennington, Annie Rickard Straus, Alice Roche, Lee Ryda, Sarah Sparkes, Miriam Sugranyes, Alice Wilson

Back to top