Show Me a Maker Faire

I’ll be in Kansas City, MO tomorrow to meet with folks about organizing a Maker Faire there this summer. (Make:KC organized a Mini Maker Faire last summer.)

Sandy Clark, a Missourian (“The Show Me State”), sent me a note recalling his 2006 visit to the first Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA.

I live in Springfield, Missouri and volunteer at the Discovery Center. Laurie Duncan is coming up there tomorrow to find out about Maker Faire. I have sent her a long letter outlining local resources and interested groups in our area, about three hours south. I’m hopping we can bus a load in and send some great hacks your way.

I wanted to share my impression of the first Maker Faire with you. I lived in Oakland at the time. It was life changing.

Oh the store of inquiry and wonder. When you love to hack and think of people as these vessels of unlimited potential, it is hard to find your place. In a button-down culture of rigid guidelines and expectations, enthusiasm and hacking are a threat. Don’t be too passionate. Don’t be too enthusiastic. Those become things you pursue alone.

Football fans will fill a stadium in an orgy of overexuberence, but hacking is done in isolation. It was a lonely proposition up until MAKE magazine launched the first Maker Faire in 2006.

Giant buoyant clouds of hydrogen bubbles rose up in a weightless column behind the entrance to the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Off to my right, a shiny red fire engine shot jets of flame into the sky.

That was my first impression of the very first Maker Faire.

Through the gate, I was confronted with hall after hall of nifty hacks and clever invention. A game of polo was being played with Segways on the green. Before I could decide what to do, a young man wearing an LCD screen on his chest shoved an Atari 2600 controller in my hand.

“Here,” someone said. “Try my new videogame.”

While I sorted that game out, he explained his quest to program the venerable 2600, the epic quest to learn to burn ROMS and 2600 programming quirks. I handed him the controller and he gave me a flyer with his website on it. Nobody has made 2600s or software for them in 20 years… Until now.

“Here,” he said to the couple behind me, “Wanna try my videogame?”

The polo players were coming off the field and I realized one of them was Apple founder Steve Wozniak. I walked over and introduced myself. We chatted. I got a photo. Nobody came up or made a scene.


“You know,” I said. “We are probably at the center of the largest gathering of geeks I’ve ever seen, and nobody is even making a fuss over you.”

He grinned.

“I know, there is just too much cool stuff here.”

Above us the hydrogen filled bubbles ripped an orange seam of ignition across the sky. Two thousand people cheered.

I had been at the first Maker Fair less than 30 minutes. I was home.

Sandy Clark is a writer and a self-described “worm coddler” and geek.


DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty