WASHINGTON — Candy maker Mars Inc. is donating $5 million to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History to create a new gallery focused on business and innovation in the United States dating back to the 1700s, the museum announced Wednesday.
The McLean, Va.-based maker of Snickers, M&Ms and pet foods will be the lead sponsor of a planned "American Enterprise" exhibit. The 8,000-square-foot multimedia gallery will trace the nation's economic development from a small agricultural nation to one of the world's largest economies.
In announcing the gift, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said it will tell a broad story about business for visitors of all ages. The Smithsonian is naming the gallery the Mars Hall of American Business. It is scheduled to open in 2015 after a renovation of the museum's west wing.
The overhaul also marks an effort to expand the museum's content beyond its roots in technology, cultural and political history. A 2002 blue-ribbon commission questioned, in part, why its exhibits didn't explore capitalism and the growth of a broad middle class, among other under-represented subjects.
The new gallery will include John Deere's plow and Eli Whitney's cotton gin among objects that show the development of U.S. agriculture. The gallery also will showcase Alexander Graham Bell's first telephones, Alfred Bloomingdale's personal credit cards and Michael Dell's early computers. A New York Stock Exchange booth from 1929 also will help tell the story of the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
Curators said the hall will include landmark advertising campaigns to examine the marketing of products and growth of the nation's consumer culture. An interactive section called "The Exchange" will give visitors a chance to try their hands at choosing marketing strategies, investing money and testing their wits against actual case studies.
Mars President Paul Michaels said it will be an exhibit that honors the innovation of businesses and entrepreneurs. He said the company wanted to support an exhibit that would show how U.S. companies and individuals have "fundamentally, and positively, changed the way the world works."
The candy maker dates back to 1911 when Frank C. Mars made his first Mars candies in his kitchen in Tacoma, Wash. The Milky Way candy bar was launched in the 1920s. Now the company has net sales of more than $30 billion across a variety of businesses.
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