Adult Technical Education: Roebling Museum of Science and Industry

Harry Jackendoff


To make Trenton and the Einstein Alley into a national center for industrial training and education.

The centerpiece of the plan is a Museum of Science and Industry in the historic Roebling Machine Shop on South Clinton. This would be used to leverage the startup of a skeleton “Institute of Human Resources and the Economy.” The Institute offices, however, would be in a small, well-designed technical education training facility.

The project would be run by an organization calling itself The American Museum of Economics Corporation, whose long-term organizational purpose is to create a central clearinghouse for the development of curricula in economics and career development.

Since the strategic goal is to create a magnet site to attract private commercial training organizations to Trenton, the first objective is to partner with The Center for Professional Advancement, currently headquartered in New Brunswick, which provides specialized technical seminars for engineers from around the country. These are usually held in hotel conference facilities in towns such as Atlantic City, Edison, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Seattle. Our goal is to provide enough incentive for the Center to hold its east coast courses here in Trenton. If this organization (or another one able to compete with its caliber courses and marketing), would agree to partner with us by holding a certain number of seminars per month to start, we could commit to a well-designed educational space in the Roebling Business Complex, with adequate shuttle support to AMTRAK and the Trenton Marriott. NOTE: our goal is to accomplish at a low cost and low risk what a convention center would do for us, and could keep Trenton’s existing accommodations in the city-owned Marriott full. Not only that, we could bootstrap it ourselves.

With specialized facilities for technical education, and given the proximity to “Einstein Alley” and Princeton, our goal is to market ourselves, the museum and the Institute, to world manufacturers as the best place to hold their east coast industrial training for new technologies and software. The goal of becoming a world center for industrial education should translate into consulting services, entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic rebirth throughout the region. We have manufacturing space and we will be accentuating our access to Central Jersey’s world class human resource pool.

The Institute of Human Resources and the Economy. Rather than create a new school, where many good schools exist already, the American Museum of Economics Corporation (who is the creator of the museum) will solicit funding and expertise for an Institute of Human Resources and the Economy. It would be tied to New Jersey’s Heldrich Center for the Workplace Research, located at Rutger’s Blaustein School. Initially, it would be nothing more than an office and a skeleton coordinating staff hosting several small conferences each year of its own. However, its long-term goal is to eventually create a unique educational presence in America focusing on careers, job-creation, and the underlying nature of work. Symbolically tied to the museum’s objectives of becoming a national curricular clearing house for economics, its objective includes within it coordinating human resources research critical to U.S. economic security. The strategy is to use the museum as the basis for funding the Institute, and using the Institute’s leverage, eventually make Trenton and “Einstein Alley” into a national center for industrial education.

The keystone is the museum. How do we create a museum cheaply, and out of nothing? The proposal for the Roebling building includes a museum, a trade-show space, a food court, and a technical school program in signage and display. The food court, trade show, and the technical training program would be independent for-profit enterprises. The initial museum installation would rely primarily on pre-existing exhibits and displays, and grow as startup funding and partners became available.

COST. Site purchase could be by a private developer who would lease to the museum, trade show group, and food court franchisees. The city currently estimates approximately $15M to ready the building for a public space. The city’s asking price for the building and lot has not been announced to date.

Since the long-term business objective of the museum corporation is to develop and fabricate exhibits which can be sold at a profit to public entities (counties, school systems, private educational franchises) around the country, it is feasible to service the entire start-up debt with exhibit sales and revenues from the trade show and food court. The figures should warrant a developer’s risk.

Expanding the Funding-Base. This combined focus of the museum with an Institute of Human Resources and the Economy broadens the range of fiscal support to include Public Policy Institutes and philanthropies. It would also include Engineering Professional Associations, NJ investment and banking industries (including Dow Jones), trade unions (including teamsters, machinists, and construction trades), New Jersey’s Science and Technology industries, and Retailer associations (for their impacts on trade, US economy, and careers).

Creating the first Museum “On the Cheap.” Trenton’s historical industry exhibits, currently housed (and in storage) at the Ellarslie Mansion can be all on display at the Roebling site. Several inexpensively designed exhibits would demonstrate both economic history and the theory of markets, showing Trenton’s natural growth of a regional economy and the interaction of a region with the larger national economy.

One of the first acts of the museum board would be to obtain the Sarnoff Museum (which has just been acquired by either Ryder College or TCNJ). Added to this would be a NJ Nobel Laureates Wall of Fame, with photographs and prizes won. Another immediate and inexpensive addition to the museum would be the Modeling Hall. Computer modeling exhibits will be solicited from major computer program vendors, illustrating use of computer modeling across the sciences. Exhibits central to economic theory would be included under the umbrella of predictive modeling. Donations of architectural models will be solicited from NJ architectural firms (marketing their firms). Donations of scientific models will be solicited from labs and industries around the nation through engineering and scientific societies. Another feature could be the Johnson Atelier, with a video of how its life-size human “models” are created at our local world-famous bronze foundry. The city will also solicit displays from New Jersey’s major industries—pharmaceuticals, petrochemical, academia, agriculture and fisheries, power and light, etc.  A retired 19th century pipe organ will be acquired from a local church as a unique working “walk-through/climb-through” exhibit for kids. Billed as “the largest hurdy-gurdy in the world,” it would be capable of running on a player-piano roll that kids can be allowed to turn.

Building a Scale Model of Trenton The biggest attraction for kids at the world-famous Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago was its giant train layout. Miniature towns have been a known tourist draw for decades. The City of Hamburg, Germany has turned their miniature world of HO scale robotics into a 21st century technological wonder. We are not out to beat Hamburg, or even our own neighbor, Flemington, which boasts America’s largest layout. However, if we supply the space, the utilities, and the plywood, we can put Trenton in the running. Within a year we can expect a large train-layout with working trains on a plywood map of Trenton. Model railroad enthusiasts from around the entire region can be expected to combine talents and club expertise to help build a scale model, in N-Gauge, of 1930 Trenton with working canal locks, trolley lines, and factory railroad yards. Building reproductions can be added slowly as part of a community-wide effort, rallying churches, schools, and train clubs from around the state and nation. This will be our first marketing attraction for families. It can be a work-in-progress forever without ever losing its draw on kids of all ages. Funding. Funding for the giant train layout will be solicited from building and construction trades, architectural and engineering corporations, professional associations, and alumni of engineering schools. Rail clubs would donate labor, track, and the loan of running stock. The city of Chattanooga TN obtained federal funds to create two scale model layouts of Chattanooga in their old Union Station.  Northlandz Inc. of Flemington, NJ is the largest U.S. commercial train layout, charging $13.75 adult admission; its record day was 2,100 visitors. Northlandz attracts hundreds of out-of-state visitors monthly, and frequently has up to 30-busloads a day of school trips, senior groups, and scouts from New York, Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley. Railroad enthusiasts can be expected to combine trips to Flemington’s Northlandz with our Trenton layout.

A Lunchtime Attraction: The Careers Court. The intent of the transition plan is to design a learning space which attracts rental incomes. A food court is proposed which would integrate franchise owners into an overall education-based theme: that of a “careers game.” Food court contracts will include a commitment to the additional cost of custom paper-products from Trenton paper goods suppliers for the “Careers Court” game. The game turns bags, plates and cups into game-pieces, with quiz questions and bar-coded answers and clues. The floor tiles, tables, and benches will be color-coded to serve as a game-board. Out of Alice in Wonderland. Funding: Funds to create the specialty game would be solicited from philanthropies supporting education, such as Geraldine R. Dodge, Pew Charitable Trust, Fund for New Jersey, NSF. Funding for the food court utilities would be an investment bank, to be paid back through leases to food franchises themselves.

Renting Space to State Chambers of Commerce. As an additional source of income, a large open display space is set aside alongside the food court for a “Chamber of Commerce.” A monthly trade show is envisioned which would invite states and countries to display their industrial history, products, services, and career opportunities. An exciting multi-level interior space is conceived to make this competitive with national trade-shows. However, most trade shows are industry-specific, while ours will be one of the only spaces devoted to regional trade shows in the nation. National exhibits from African, Asian, and Central American countries would attract New Jersey residents from those countries, as well as entrepreneurs looking for manufacturing sites, export partners, novel retail items. A permanent exhibit in the Chamber of Commerce could be devoted to Trenton’s new sister-city, Ashkhabad—and our attempt to create commercial links with the Republic of Turkestan.

An Apprenticeship and Trade School Program. Contributing to the funding of the project, it is proposed that bids for a trade-school course in signage, lighting, and display manufacture (carpentry, casting & molding) be entertained from regional tech schools. The school would be attached to an exhibit fabrication facility to be opened in Trenton, contracted to a major national exhibitry company from Burlington, NJ. The museum’s own growth and the support of monthly trade shows will help fund the school, as well as an apprenticeship program for talented Trenton students. Exhibits made at the school will be marketed to organizations, communities, and companies around the state in the need of lobby, trade, and historical displays, and marketed by Trenton marketing students.

Summary. The Roebling Center would be designed as part of a strategic plan to make Trenton the center of specialty engineering and crafts training, attracting world industry to Einstein Alley. The keystone of this arch is to be a Museum of Science and Industry, located in the old Roebling Machine Shop building. The arch holds up The National Institute for Human Resources and the Economy. The museum space would also house a Chamber of Commerce Display area and a Careers Food Court. The startup would entail a trade school in exhibitry design and fabrication. The museum would be used as a test-bed for exhibits to be sold around the country at a profit.


1 comment so far

  1. Brian Hill on

    Thank you for taking the time to write about an idea for our city. It is appreciated, and I do hope you are successful where the last museum was not. A point in your essay if I may-you state above ” Trenton’s historical industry exhibits, currently housed (and in storage) at the Ellarslie Mansion can be all on display at the Roebling site.” I do not know where you got your information, because you did not contact me, but this is totally false. All of the history exhibits produced at the Trenton City Museum some of which were- Stangl Fulper (now going on) to Churchills in Chambersburg (cigar Factory) John A. Roebling, Made in Trenton, and 60% of the Scammell exhibit (to name just a few), were produced through the help of the public. Yes, some of the individual pieces were from the collection but, the patrons (members) of the museum, local collectors, and other institutions like Newark Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Trentoniana Collection, Artifacts Gallery – loan objects on display to produce for the public the best possible overview of the history. Most of the items in the Collection, maintained by the Museum Society, are items ceramic in nature. There are items of most of the industries from Trenton, but there are no canned exhibitions in storage at Ellarslie. They are produced, at great expense to the Trenton Museum Society (Roebling was about $12,000 when you add in the intern hired to help), from scratch by volunteers and my staff of 1.2 persons. I would be happy to talk to anyone about the collection, and how we all can move forward in making Trenton the cultural destination it should be. Please contact me when the museum has a foundation so we can explore the partnership that will surly advance both institutions.

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