Denny Daniel's Museum of Interesting Things

Attending Maker Faire can be like a magical glimpse into the future with all of its ingenuity and intellect, robots, rocket, and gadgets galore. But some makers, like Denny Daniel and his Museum of Interesting Things, are there to bring a window to the past. Denny will be at Maker Faire New York, taking place this weekend, September 17 and 18, at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, presenting incredible artifacts from the past.

1. Tell us about the Museum of Interesting Things. How did it get started and what is its mission?
The Museum of Interesting Things is a traveling museum that can go anywhere with a room or several tables, from schools to festivals. We demonstrate and also let people handle the items. It’s a show like a circus — just no elephants! There are eight areas of interest: photography, science, music, literature, medical, math, toys, and household. We aim to get people to realize their iPods and other items didn’t pop out of thin air, that they are a product of many inventions and ideas that evolved over years. We want to bring back that attitude of the greatest generation, who loved to tinker and never saw a problem they couldn’t solve. I guess you could say that one purpose of The Museum of Interesting Things is to make more “makers”! I suppose the T-shirt would read “TMIT: We Make Makers”.

2. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you decide to participate? What artifacts from the Museum are you bringing to the Faire?
I got into a random conversation about TMIT with a worker at Home Depot, and he told me about Maker Faire. Not long after, I saw a piece on Maker Faire on a major news channel and I knew it was fate! So I called the Home Depot guy and he gave me the details.

When I learned more about the Faire, I realized it’s doing exactly what I think the country needs and what TMIT is trying to do also. Our goal is to teach people to be creative and inventive in a way that’s fun, interesting, and playful, while secretly (or maybe not so secretly) everyone is actually getting an education and being inspired at the same time. That’s why I joined.

Some of my favorite things from the museum are coming to the show, and I’m also debuting several pieces. There will be over 30 items that people will be allowed to handle. I’m debuting the pigeon parachute, the pigeon harness, the 1904 spy camera shaped like a pocket watch, and the Mutoscope. I’ll also bring some of my old faves, the Thomas Edison cylinder phonograph and a portable Columbia cylinder player, as well as several box wooden cameras from the 1800s, stereoscopes, windup tin toys, and much, much more.

Museum of Interesting Things Erector Set

3. What are some places you’ve taken the Museum to? What are your favorite reactions to the artifacts?
We’ve gone to so many different types of places: public and private schools, the Intrepid Museum, NYU, FIT, the 9th Precinct Police Department, the American Youth Hostel’s 75th anniversary. We’ve even presented to 140 senior citizens at a winery.

Mayor Bloomberg, Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr, Joe Franklin, Joey Ramone’s brother Mickey, Cy Curnin of The Fixx, and Mike Peters from The Alarm have all posed and demonstrated several antiques for the website.

I love that people get curious when they start playing with the items, and call their friends over to teach them how to the items work. I also love how they recount their own stories about history and get inspired. For example, after one school show, several 8th graders stopped me in the hallway and started asking me questions and telling how much fun they had. When I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, each said an inventor or scientist, except the last one. He said, ”Well, I want to be a basketball player.” Then, after a moment of thought, he said, “and maybe an inventor too!” I thought, wow, peer pressure in the opposite direction than we’re used to!

4. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
My first creative endeavors started around 3 years old, when I began writing songs and later prose. I grew up watching my father design and make shoes, my brother’s kamikaze photography style, and the amazing ways my friends souped up their cars.

I was inspired by several teachers in high school and college. One came to my house with a bottle of vodka and the movie Road Warriors and compared it to the fall of Rome (yes, the drinking age was lower then). I was also inspired by several authors like Dickens, Camus, and Socrates, as well as several dear tinkering friends and bosses. My dad has been my greatest inspiration. He designed shoes for major stores like Macy’s and Nine West, speaks nine languages, and seems to be able to do anything and not fail!

When I started working, there were several jobs that helped grow this crazy obsession with antiques. I was lucky to be able to learn both modern technology and history, and still have fun. I’ve done everything from filming at clubs like Limelight and running underground warehouse parties, to working for the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.

5. What new idea has excited you most recently?
I get inspired by how old ideas evolve into modern inventions that we think are new, but were actually already thought of or invented by people like Leonardo Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Edison. I also love that people are starting to create their own businesses and inventions, and what used to be weird science is becoming a part of our popular culture — like robot competitions and Maker Faires.

6. What is your motto?
I do not believe in failure. The show must go on. If you stay positive and have hope, you will succeed in anything. That pretty much also explains the success of the Chia pet and the pet rock!

Museum of Interesting Things

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Don’t be afraid to demystify the things around you, whether they seem complicated or simple.

8. What do you love most about NYC?
Despite its size and reputation, it can often be like a small town. Everyone will work together to solve a problem or help each other in a time of crisis, or even for something simple like giving directions. It makes me feel like we’re one big family, and that’s how I like to run my social life and my business endeavors.

Thanks Denny! For folks in the New York area, get all the information you need to attend the Faire and join the fun this weekend at the Maker Faire website.

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

I was an editor for the first 40 volumes of MAKE. The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. Covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made.

Contact me at snowgoli (at) gmail (dot) com.


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