Play with science at SPARK Museum

SPARK Museum is all about hands-on learning. To encourage curiosity and scientific thinking, the downtown Bellingham museum loves it when visitors interact with the process of invention.

Guests at SPARK don’t just observe electrical phenomena; they take part in them.

One way SPARK helps visitors feel (often literally) the shock of invention is through interactive devices, of which there are dozens throughout the museum. You’ll see green dots on many devices, which mean that they are interactive in some way. As you walk through the museum, you can explore on your own, at your own pace. If you see a neat-looking invention or other device that you’d like more information about, or if you’d like to see a demonstration, feel free to stop and ask a friendly docent for help. Scroll to the end of this post for a list of interactive devices at SPARK.

A number of the interactive science devices at SPARK — including the Cooke-Wheatstone 5-needle telegraph, the Morse telegraph device, the vintage record player, the theremin, the love machine, the oscilloscope and many more — were mentioned in a previous blog post. Now, we’re back to divulge even more things for kids (and their parents!) to do at SPARK.

There’s an old Kellogg magneto wall phone, roughly a century old, that offers visitors the chance to experience a party line. Remember those? Before World War II, most people shared a telephone line with up to 20 other people. Anyone else on the line could listen in on conversations, and you’d often have to wait your turn for an opportunity to place a call. Give it a try!

1930's living room with sofa period-accurate electrical and other devices for entertainment.

On the other side of the theremin (which also is totally interactive, by the way), there’s a replica of an vintage living room, complete with a cabinet radio, piano and bookshelf (feel free to browse) and stereoscope (feel free to try it out).

Just inside the front door of SPARK Museum in downtown Bellingham is the Dawn of the Electrical Age display, which features a number of early devices that represented attempts to capture, create and store electrical energy way back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Press the red button for a dramatic — and electrifying — presentation of Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment!

And let’s not forget the static electricity lab, which features working, interactive models of a Wimshurst generator, Franklin bells, Leyden jars, a Dirod, an electrostatic motor, a balloon wall, a plasma globe and even a large Van de Graaff generator (please ask for assistance with that one) that will make your hair stand on end.

Oh, and did you know that there’s an upstairs at SPARK Museum? The SPARK Activity Center is basically a giant exploration room for youth (and for the young at heart). It’s laid out with areas for kids to interact with their parents and guardians, like the popular Magnet Corner, featuring hundreds of magnetic shapes, numbers, letters and tons of wall space to create! A few other things to do up there:

  • The Spin Zone Gyro Pitt.
  • The Gadget Table, with all kinds of mechanical contraptions, meters, keyboards, devices and other stuff like that.
  • The super-popular Building Block Table with enough blocks to build (and destroy!) a small city.
  • A book and puzzle table, featuring a variety of fun science and history books, magazines and catalogs.
  • A variety of science-themed puzzles for all ages.

We use the upstairs area for our many youth-oriented science workshops, and it’s also a great place for Whatcom County families to spend time while visiting SPARK. The upstairs space is an open area normally used for workshops, available to the public for unstructured activities.

Want a more organized, structured experience for your kiddos? Many youth appreciate a more structured approach to science education, instead of wandering and self-exploration. SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention periodically holds special classes and workshops in our upstairs space. Watch this website and the SPARK Facebook page to stay up to date on upcoming events for youth.

SPARK Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. MegaZapper shows, in which science education meets live theater, are held on Saturdays and Sundays. Come visit us in downtown Bellingham!

Interactive areas at SPARK:

This map of SPARK Museum shows the locations of selected must-see, interactive and demonstration devices at our museum in downtown Bellingham.
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Dawn of the Electrical Age diorama
  • Infinity Portal
  • Static Electricity Lab
  • Titanic Marconi Room diorama
  • Wireless Telegraph Key (with LED display)
  • Cooke-Wheatstone Five-Needle Telegraph
  • Morse Code Keyboard
  • Telephone Party Line
  • Classic Dial Telephone
  • Telephone Switchboard (complete and original)
  • Edison Power Plant
  • Tesla Egg of Columbus
  • Early Mechanical Motor
  • Voice Oscilloscope
  • Theremin
  • 1930’s Parlor (listen to the Golden Age of Radio)
  • Experimental TV from the 1930s
  • Passion Meter
  • Vintage Cash Register
  • SPARK Activity Center
  • The War of the Currents