How my Jeans Ended Up in the Smithsonian

After I blogged that my bluejeans had been on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History from 1995-2006, I received a lot of messages and comments.  I thought I would save the story until after I found the photos of the exhibit.  Sad to say, I haven’t found the photos, but I did find the negatives.  It’ll be a few days before I can have prints made, so I decided to end the suspense. 

Back in 1994, when I was working for a company called Genencor, curators from the Smithsonian visited the company and asked for a tour.  The employees who usually led such tours were at an off-site meeting, so the company receptionist asked me if I could show the guests from the Smithsonian around the facility.
The curators explained to me that the National Museum of American History was preparing a new permanent exhibit on “Science in American Life” and was looking for some ideas to include in the section on biotechnology.  I told them about Genencor’s project to use enzymes from microorganisms to give a stonewashed look to jeans.
Up until then, manufacturers of bluejeans actually washed the jeans with pumice stones to abrade the jeans and give them a “worn” look and feel.  The technology Genencor was developing would avoid the use of stones, avoid a lot of wear and tear on the washing machines, provide a more uniform product, and avoid the problem of having to clean the residue of the stones from the jeans after they were stonewashed.
The curators from the Smithsonian liked this idea and asked if I could provide some materials for the exhibit.  So, I sent them two pairs of jeans – one was a stiff, dark blue, unwashed pair (you can hardly find these in the stores anymore) and one was a pair that I washed with cellulase enzymes (and yes, I actually wore the jeans before I sent them to the Smithsonian).  Today, almost all “stonewashed” jeans are really enzyme-washed.
The Science in American Life exhibit opened in 1995 and, a few years later, the museum moved Julia Child’s kitchen into a space right across the hall from where my jeans were displayed.  I was honored that my bluejeans shared the company of Julia Child’s pots and pans.
Presently, the museum is closed during renovation and will reopen in 2008. Unfortunately, the Science in American Life exhibit will not have a place in the remodeled museum.  Still, for 11 years my bluejeans were on display to the public.
So, no racy stories at all.  No protests, no arrests.  But, I wonder how many people have viewed my bluejeans in awe and wonder over the years?

And, by the way, may I have my jeans back now?

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4 Responses to How my Jeans Ended Up in the Smithsonian

  1. Melanie F. says:

    That was a cool story! And the fact that you even THOUGHT to wear them first says alot about your personality! And I’m not going to say anything about the awe and wonder comment…….

  2. Barbara Poole says:

    Thanks Steve for explaining the importance of the jeans so quickly, now we don’t have to wonder any more. Barb

  3. I think the blog entry where I first mentioned these jeans generated more comments than any other article I’ve written! Ah, well, the jeans are history now, locked away in some vault at the Smithsonian, never to be seen again.

  4. Cheryl Palmer says:

    It is amazing where ones mind can end up wondering why Steve’s jeans are in the Smithsonian! lol I do believe that particular article was on a lot of people’s minds, and had people talking! It mostly was beacuse of how you presented it! Great job! I loved it, keep up the great writing! :-)
    (gee, now I can tell people that I know someone whose jeans are in the Smithsonian! I can imagine the questions I will get from that statement!) I am not sure anyone else can make that statement can they? Their jeans are in the Smithsonian?

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