This exhibition was on display from December 12, 2014 to May 25, 2015.

There were 176 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 170 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.

This exhibition has been divided in to the following sections:

See all the exhibitions.

View and print exhibition labels.

We all use tools—from the moment we wake up until we go to bed. Designed to overcome the limitations and fulfill the desires of the human body, tools are extensions of ourselves and surrogates where humans fall short. Although often equated with technology and engineering, some tools are seemingly simple, poetic gestures; others save time and alleviate the burdens of daily life; still others are game changers that allow us to achieve amazing feats. Offering moments of surprise and connections between seemingly diverse cultures, time periods, and places, the works shown here provide an opportunity to consider tools as quintessential examples of design, and reveal the fundamental role they play in shaping our lives.
Ranging from a 1.85 million-year old stone core chopper to real-time data of the Sun’s surface, the tools in this exhibition span much of human experience and tell a unique story of design. This exhibition is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between Cooper Hewitt and eleven Smithsonian Institution museums and research centers, which generously lent most of the objects, as well as expertise. Their loans are augmented with several contemporary tools that illustrate new areas of research.
Tools: Extending Our Reach is made possible by major support from GE. Generous support is also provided by Newell Rubbermaid, Dorit and Avi Reichental, and Esme Usdan. Additional funding is provided by the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, Facebook, the Ehrenkranz Fund, and Smithsonian Institution funds from the Grand Challenges Consortia.

  • Ophthalmoscope And Case (Germany), 1860
  • ophthalmoscope: velvet, metal, wood, optical glass; case: leather, velvet.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 314016.
  • 14.2012.6
  • Autofold Cane (USA), 1980s
  • rubber, elastic cord, aluminum, iron, reflective tape.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 306619.10.
  • 14.2012.9
  • Sextant And Case (England), ca. 1865
  • sextant: brass, silver, glass; case: mahogany, brass, felt.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 1980.0318.03.
  • 14.2012.23
  • Big Road Census (USA), 1881 or 1882
  • colored pencil, graphite, and watercolor on paper.
  • National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution NAA MS 2372 (Inv.....
  • 15.2012.6
  • Fishhook (Solomon Islands), Before 1917
  • carved turtle shell, mother-of-pearl, glass beads, fiber cord.
  • Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian....
  • 15.2012.17
  • Parka (USA), Before 1925
  • beluga whale gut, sinew, grass twine.
  • National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 22/7435.
  • 17.2012.8
  • SX-70 Camera And Case, 1972
  • polysulfone plastic with a layer of copper-nickel-chromium alloy, applied....
  • Museum purchase through gift of Neil Sellin.
  • 1999-2-2-a,b
  • Ether Inhaler (USA), ca. 1846
  • glass, horn, metal, textile wrapping, wooden base (not original to the object).
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Cat. M-09244.
  • 14.2012.43
  • Edison Lamp, 1880
  • bamboo, glass, wood, brass, plaster, platinum, cork.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Cat. 310579.01.
  • 14.2012.44
  • Box Clock (USA), ca. 1816
  • wood case with painted dial on glass door, lead weights, paper.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 317044.
  • 14.2012.46
  • Solar Wall, 2010
  • H x W: 182.9 x 210.8 cm (6 ft. x 6 ft. 11 in.).
  • Courtesy of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
  • 27.2012.1
  • Tonometer (France), 1876
  • steel, walnut.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 217544 (600....
  • 14.2012.64