Land of Inventors Germany

International Exhibit Comes to Bozeman

On October 26, 1861, German inventor Johann Philipp Reis introduced a new word and concept to the world, the “telephone.” Combining “Tele” (at a distance) with “Phon” (unit of sound), Reis’s invention showed how voice could be transmitted through electronic wire. He conducted a live demonstration of his invention in front of a group of renowned scientists at the “Physical Society of Frankfurt,” where the now legendary sentences could be heard on the other end: “The horse does not eat cucumber salad,” and “The sun is made of copper.” Selected for their absurd and specific nature—to ensure the listener heard each word correctly and could not guess what was being said—these sentences have lived on in fame as the first sentences ever spoken on a telephone in public.  

Occurring some 15 years before Alexander Graham Bell’s patent of the telephone in 1876, Johann Philipp Reis’s invention has become so commonplace throughout the world that it is easy to forget how it came into existence. However, this is not the case for Reis’s hometown of Friedrichsdorf, Germany, where citizens have turned his house into a museum and host an annual “day of the telephone” festival. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a world in which the telephone does not exist and festivals like that of Friedrichsdorf remind us how important it is celebrate inventions that have gone on to impact the world. 

But the telephone is far from the only notable German invention to accomplish this. From cars to the MP3, German innovation in STEM has long changed the world and continues to solidify Germany’s place as a vibrant crossroads of commerce, ideas, and technologies to this day. As the German cultural organization, the Goethe Institut, notes: “Currently Germany ranks among the top three nations worldwide in numbers of new patents, and the number of people working in STEM-related fields in Germany continues to grow. Perspectives for an innovative future in an innovative country could hardly be better—not just for Germans, but also for young people from across the world interested in science, technology, engineering, and math as well as in Germany.”  

In this spirit, the Goethe Institut is bringing an acclaimed exhibit that celebrates German inventors and inventions to Bozeman in March. Titled “Land of Inventors, Germany” (aka: “Erfinderland” in German), this exhibit has travelled all over the world from Jakarta to Stockholm to New York City, and more. “Land of Inventors, Germany” will be on display at Montana State University for the month of March.  

 “Land of Inventors” is an interactive exhibit that focuses on STEM-related innovations which originated in Germany but have gone on to heavily influence the rest of the world. The hands-on, multimedia displays provide an engaging experience for students and adults alike. According to the Goethe Institute, “(t)he exhibition includes both historic achievements as well as contemporary innovations that will help shape our future. In addition, it also provides an overview of opportunities in research at German schools and universities.”   

Dean Brett Gunnik from the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering generously opened space in MSU’s brand new Norm Asbjornson Hall for the month-long exhibit, which will double as an opportunity to showcase the impressive designs and intentions of the structure. Accordingly, MSU’s German Studies program is excited to be organizing one of the first interdisciplinary projects in Norm Asbjornson Hall with such a famous global organization as the Goethe Institut.  

How to visit the exhibit: 

The public grand opening of the exhibit will take place on March 5, 2019, from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. following a day filled with fun educational shows and tours of the exhibit for Gallatin Valley area schools. Starting March 6, 2019, regular tour schedules will be maintained by knowledgeable, German-speaking student ambassadors to help bring the displays to life. Tours start every hour on the hour and are available: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.- 1 p.m.; Saturday March 9, and by appointment. 

The exhibit is free and open to the public throughout the times listed regardless of whether you would like a guided tour or if you would like to follow the self-guided materials. Private tours of the exhibit can also be accommodated. Please contact Justin Johnson, the Lead Student Ambassador for the exhibit: School groups are encouraged to schedule a tour, as the exhibit includes several interactive contents. All tours start in Norm Asbjornson Hall Room 324 on the Montana State University campus.   

MSU’s German Studies program is organizing several additional events that highlight the importance of German language, culture, and innovation. On Tuesday, March 5 at 11 a.m., the Goethe Institut is sponsoring a live science show for high school students and middle school students in and around the Gallatin Valley area. On Saturday, March 9 at 10 a.m., Bozeman High School’s German program and MSU German are co-organizing an American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) teaching workshop for German teachers from around Montana. On Thursday, March 14 at 11 a.m., MSU German is hosting a public symposium on Intersections of STEM & the Humanities titled: “Histories of Science and Technology in Germany and beyond” with speakers coming in from across the continent. For more information on these events and others, please visit the department website at:

In addition to learning about the technological history of contraptions like Johann Philipp Reis’s tele-phone, visitors of “Land of Inventors, Germany” will get to experience German language in action. After all, the first sentences uttered on a public telephone were spoken auf Deutsch: “Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat” (The horse does not eat cucumber salad) and “Die Sonne ist von Kupfer” (The sun is made of copper). But this exhibit notably tells the full story of how these sentences were heard in what must certainly be the first game of “broken telephone.” Due to an unsteady connection, Reis could in fact only make out: “The horse eats” and “The sun is made of sugar.” Thanks to his invention though, games of broken telephone prove why a good connection matters when it comes to communicating and why languages like German play a vital role in and beyond Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. Perhaps just as important, the “Land of Inventors, Germany” demonstrates the value of innovation and interdisciplinary collaborations between STEM & the Humanities.  

Justin Johnson is a Senior in MSU’s Chemical Engineering program with minors in Biochemistry and German Studies. Peter Schweppe is an Assistant Professor of German Studies and History at MSU.