Rodney Mullen at the Smithsonian


Rodney Mullen visited the Smithsonian (on invitation) as part of the Lemelson Center’s informal initiative to build relationships with skateboarding’s innovators. Your response may be “What the what?” Or at least, what is the Lemelson Center and why do they care about skateboarding? Technically, it’s the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and it was established in 1995 under the larger umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution. But why skateboarding? According to deputy director Jeff Brodie:

Most associate invention and innovation with technology and science, but the Center often explores other unexpected places where invention and innovation flourishes—like skateboarding. This wide exploration is critical to fostering an appreciation for the central role invention and innovation play in the history of the United States. It also makes our work extremely interesting, fun, and exciting as we meet, collaborate, and explore the world of invention and innovation with all types of people.

And it doesn’t end with Rodney Mullen’s interview. They are planning an event to coincide with National Go Skateboarding Day called Innoskate, which will be “a major public festival that will celebrate invention and creativity in skate culture.” Watch Rodney’s interview and read a little bit about what happened behind the scenes thanks to our spy in the Smithsonian Betsy Gordon. (Thanks Betsy!)

There’s a funny story behind Rodney’s skating on the roof terrace of the American History museum. Jeff and I took him up there to shoot some B-roll for the interview. We thought that it would be free of people and that the view of the Washington Monument in the background would be killer. What we forgot is that all the senior executive staff offices are on that floor, with their windows directly looking out on the terrace. So Rodney begins to skate around and we are just chatting and chilling when all of a sudden the entire senior staff of American History comes out to see what the heck is going on. Jeff and I look at each other, thinking “we’ll either get totally chewed out for this or…” The director of American History asks what’s going on and then proceeds to tell us that he’s never seen anything so cool in his life. He starts calling other staff and before we know it, there is this huge crowd of American History staff on the roof watching Rodney skate, taking pictures with their phones, asking him questions. It was such a great moment. And Rodney charmed them all. Every guy that was there wanted to be him and every gal wanted to marry him. He’s one charming dude let me tell you that. We also got to take Rodney into storage areas at the museum where he nerded out with the curators about 19th century scientific instrumentation, etc. Just a great great day that I couldn’t tell anyone about for nearly 6 months. So happy I could finally send you something.


  1. Arsenio Venkman on February 6, 2013 - Reply

    hey rodney, before u qualify for your AARP card could u please skate a half pipe or mini ramp on film? it would be cool… i seen u skate a gravel parking lot in clifton nj, ‘speed center’ in ’92

  2. bevilacqua on February 6, 2013 - Reply

    clap clap clap
    bravo Mr.Mullen
    and congrats to those who open their eyes and doors to modernism

  3. Thanks S&A. Link to the IASC blurb on Innoskate:

    Shout out to all skaters in DC/MD/VA etc.– make certain you come to the Smithsonian’s American History museum on June22-23. You will be very very happy that you did.

  4. I’m still amazed that he could skate freestyle like he did with all those pads on way back when!
    Rodney has come a long way since the first time I saw him skate.
    He is one inspiring dude.

  5. A national treasure.

  6. Isn’t “Innoskate” a Nate Sherwood-ism?

  7. Niemand on February 7, 2013 - Reply

    Skipping the Mullen soap-opera….. and rather concentrating upon science (1st) & progress (2nd).

    The science of humanity and sticks;
    Sticks were ‘most likely’ the earliest of humanity’s tools. For thousands of years these pieces of wood (and/or metal) played a huge role in the ‘workings’ of humanity…. unfortunately this was primarily through the sticks use as spears, bows & arrows, axes, clubs and especially swords. All can be regarded to be weapon-type tools.

    The use of ‘sticks’ (a wooden object) as a weapon-tool, it reigned supreme up until pretty damn recently. Imagine a time when a wood/metal object (stick) was the most precious thing a person possessed. Whether someone had these arrows, spears, swords etc was sometimes a matter of life or death.

    Thus, it can be said that for decades/eons these sticks had a measurable effects upon humanity.

    Fast forward to 2013: What sticks are ‘essential’ today? What wooden tools are a huge part of a person’s existence NOW. Gone (largely) are arrows, spears, swords…… so what has replaced them? Is the replacement out there? and is it also basically a weapon-tool?

    IMHO: The skateboard as the evolutionary ‘next step forward’ in this particular case (case being relationship between humanity and sticks)…….,,, is to me ENTIRELY CLEAR, SKATEBOARDS ARE THE ONLY ‘STICKS’ WHICH A LARGE SEGMENT OF HUMANITY CONSIDERS ESSENTIAL.

    Skateboards are as essential to a skater…….
    As was a sword to a knight…..

    The advancement of humanity should be obvious……
    Who the fuck carries a sword?
    Most today prefer to ride a board.


  8. bevilacqua on February 8, 2013 - Reply

    where I live a lot of people carry a sword everyday as a tool and sometimes as a weapon. Do not see Chivalry nor sorcery in it …just ordinary life in the west Indies.
    As for me my other stick comes only after the sword everyday…and some modern conveniences.

  9. man in St. Kitts with machete = man with a job

  10. […] succeeding in establishing an important connection between skateboarding and innovation and between the skate community and the Lemelson Center. One the pure joys of working at the Lemelson Center is the opportunity to bring disparate groups […]

  11. GatorALLin on May 30, 2013 - Reply

    Loved Mullen’s Ted talk, here is a link if you missed it.

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