Amazon CEO Bezos' $10 million gift to Seattle Museum

MOHAI is getting largest donation in its history.

MOHAI is getting largest donation in its history.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos is donating $10 million dollars to the Museum of History and Industry for a new Center for Innovation at the museum's new South Lake Union digs, scheduled to open in 2012. It is the largest donation in MOHAI's nearly 60-year history, and a big boost for the museum's $90-million relocation and reinvention campaign.

Amazon and MOHAI will be neighbors, and the CEO and founder's gift will fund a showcase for "how industrial innovation can play an important role in human advancement," according to an Aug. 17 MOHAI press release.

The release quotes Amazon boss Bezos: "Look at the disproportionate number of extraordinary organizations founded in Seattle — Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, Fred Hutch, PACCAR — even UPS was founded here. These companies and their innovations have had a big impact on Seattle, the country, and the world." 

MOHAI covers a wide range of Seattle history, but the history of business and industry has always been a focus. The museum move will help update the notion that Seattle history consists mostly of old-school industries like shipping and salmon canning, and plans call for new exhibits that are also forward-looking. I did some consulting for the museum a couple of years ago, but have not seen the final plans. The new Center for Innovation will include exhibits, programs, and research opportunities. 

MOHAI's executive director Leonard Garfield says in the release: "Jeff is one of the leading visionaries and inventors of our time, and we are fortunate to have him in our own backyard, helping continue Seattle's renown for large-scale innovation. This new initiative is perfectly aligned with the Museum of History & Industry's mission and we look forward to telling the story of how Seattle companies have played a role in human advancement and to educating thousands of young people and adults alike in the years to come on the past, present, and future of innovation in Seattle."

Bezos has visited MOHAI and hatched the idea for the center in discussions with Garfield. MOHAI says that Bezos has agreed to share his "ideas, insights and experience" as the museum develops the concept.

The largest gift MOHAI had previously received was a $4 million grant from the Casey Family Foundation some years ago.

The new museum will be in the old Naval Reserve Armory on Lake Union. The museum expects to host 120,000 visitors a year at the more central, more visible location. MOHAI and its four million or so artifacts will be moving from the museum's Montlake digs due to the 520 expansion.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.