As I observed the annual Maker Faire here in New York this past weekend, I recalled the first Maker Faire I attended in 2010, but then a more distant memory overtook me also. While looking up at the Atlas and Titian rockets outside the Hall of Science, I registered them as symbolic of a dramatic change happening in our country. This is in retrospect to what they represented 50 years ago during the 1964 World’s Fair. I should explain that the rockets are very personnel for me, as my father had helped design a launch system for the Saturn rocket series. Back then, he was part of a team of engineers working for a large engineering company under a government contract. In this position, he was working alongside other engineers; doing problem-solving for something that would lead to the human triumph in space. This was very empowering for them as career engineers and for us, as a country.
Interesting for me, is that I also recall seeing these very same rockets in 1995, when I visited the World’s Fair site. They were in very bad condition at that time; rusting, decaying and unsafe- they seemed to represent to me a darker side of American progress. I remember that I was drawn to try and capture this feeling in a photograph, because their condition seamed to be an accurate reflection on the larger “rustbelt” conditions present in our Country’s manufacturing base. So, as I lamented a bit on the grandeur of ‘64 World’s Fair, whose exhibits were big monuments to corporations and capitalism, I also felt these same “titans of industry” were the ones who were intoxicated by their own greed in the ‘70’s, and drove the American platform of design innovation off-the-cliff.
We are in a special time now and individuals have the stage, along with a freedom to start-up a business which can be funded by what the people believe is good, or necessary for a society. Additionally, open-source technology creates a fertile environment for further innovation. There are some big differences represented between the first Faire I saw in 2010, and now. I clearly noticed an increase is the “business of making”, whether that be educational kits, CNC generated products, software platforms, or physical computing modules. This growth of the entrepreneur that serves the maker or is an independent engineer just doing their own direct manufacturing is a groundswell of the maker movement, and is a clear representation of what people describe as the democratization of manufacturing.
I wish my father were still here to see this, as he had so many unfulfilled ideas as an engineer, which was constrained by the corporate structure of that period. I revile in this special moment in time now, with his creative heart in my mind, and I am hopeful. Seeing the rockets this week, which are now fully restored to their former glory, and in this new context, I think our country is on it’s feet again. But this time, we are doing it for ourselves- no glamorous architecture or giant pavilions needed, just great ideas and a tent.