If you have never stepped foot in the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention (formerly the American Museum of Radio and Electricity) in Bellingham, you’re missing one of Bellingham’s unique experiences.
The SPARK Museum is an interactive museum that offers educational experiences for audiences of all ages. It relies on galleries and public programs that illustrate the development and use of electricity, radio and the related inventions that changed the course of human history. The museum features a collection of artifacts showcasing four centuries of human innovation from 1580 into the 1950s.
Abby Russell, administrative coordinator, agreed to tell readers more about the museum:
Q: Can you explain in a nutshell what the SPARK Museum in in your own words?
A: The SPARK Museum explores the discovery of electricity and invention. We start at the beginning and our visitors walk through the process of discovery. Our exhibits and interactive displays ask them to make observations, use their imaginations and come to conclusions alongside great inventors, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
Q: What is the single biggest draw?
A: The biggest attraction is our Weekend MegaZapper Show. In this hour-long presentation we demonstrate devices that deal with electricity, magnetism, sound, and again, walk our audience through the discovery process. We have about four Tesla coils we use, which are effectively lightning machines. How many people can say they’ve seen indoor lightning?
The Tesla coils draw people for a variety of reasons. One, as I mentioned, how many chances to do you get to be mere inches away from lightning and come away to tell the tale? People are fascinated by lightning and natural wonders in general. This show allows visitors to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most magnificent displays.
Q: How many visitors do you get?
A: For 2017 our visitation was just under 17,000. I’m not sure what we had the year before. We really do attract people from all backgrounds and ages. We do a lot with school groups of all ages, with grades 3 to 6 being the most common. That being said, we have high school groups and college groups come in regularly as well.
In terms of general admission we are all over the spectrum. We attract a lot of families, retired electricians, school teachers, etc. We are also jokingly known as a perfect place for a first date or to renew your vows. All that is to say, we really do have visitors of every age. We have found over the years that museum is best suited for ages 6 and up.
Additionally, our collection is extremely unique, in that it is not behind glass and out of reach. Instead we want visitors to be as close and personal as possible. However, we do ask them not to touch, and with really young ones that can be a problem. All are welcome, but parents with young children often opt out. However, some little children are absolutely fascinated and spend hours here. It is up to the parents’ discretion. We also do not allow children under 5 years old into the MegaZapper Show.
Q: So, is this museum meant to be fun or educational?
A: Both. We pride ourselves on making education fun. Rather than simply listening or reading to learn, we promote the concept of discovery. That’s possible by asking questions, making observations, running tests and discovering along the way. This style is so engaging and entertaining and really characterizes the collection, the school programs and the weekend show.
People should come and visit the museum because it is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Nowhere else in the world will they see a collection this complete, accessible or fascinating.
IF YOU GO
SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention
Where: 1312 Bay St.
Hours: Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5p.m.
Cost: $8 per adult, $5 per child under 11; members free