Plans are currently underway to build the Irish American Museum in Washington, DC. It is believed that over 41 million Americans claim Irish heritage, and it is the mission of the museum to recognize and honor the history and contributions of Irish Americans. After its completion, visitors will be able to learn about Irish American history through a variety of mediums such as recordings, videos and written materials.
Irish Americans represent a rich diverse population of our culture across a variety of disciplines. Actors such as Mel Gibson, Rosie O’Donnell, Mia Farrow and John Travolta; musicians Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen and Bing Crosby; athletes Derek Jeter and John L. Sullivan; and government leaders, including our current President, Barack Obama, are all Irish Americans.The founding members of the museum are James B. Doughtery, Carl Shanahan and Patrick Sean Flaherty. Together, the three have created much interest in the museum throughout the community.
While the museum is underway, history buffs can satisfy their curiosity by viewing an introduction to the museum. Though the physical museum has not been erected, a series of virtual exhibits dedicated to the lives and careers of Irish Americans exist on the website as well. The online exhibits are dedicated to three prominent Irish Americans, inventors Cyrus Hall McCormick, Humphrey O’Sullivan and physicist Charles Townes.
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A brief background on three famous Irish American inventors currently featured in online exhibits:
Cyrus Hall McCormick
Born in Virginia in the early 1800s, Cyrus McCormick grew to make important contributions to the revolution of American farming as the founder of the McCormick machine Company, now Navistar International. His most well known inventions include items that made farming and harvesting crops easier on the workers. McCormick also helped to develop the first mechanical reaper, a horse-strewn mechanism that aided in harvesting grain.
A former print shop worker, O’Sullivan received the first patent for a rubber heel for shoes on January 24, 1899. An invention that was initially a simple way to make his long-standing workdays more bearable, O’Sullivan ended up patenting the idea after many of his co-workers started following suit. His company, O’Sullivan Corporation, continues to be an important presence in the industries of manufacturing, automobiles and plastics.
Charles Townes is an Irish American physicist and was even awarded the Nobel Prize in the 60s for his work with microwaves and the invention of the laser and the maser. For those not familiar with quantum electronics, masers amplify electromagnetic waves and are used in electronic amps, radio telescopes and atomic clocks.
There is an ongoing campaign to bring awareness to the museum. Find out how you can help spread the word here.
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Patrick D. McCoy is a freelance writer in Washington, D. C. where he is active as a performing arts journalist, educator, church music director and radio show host. His work can be found here.