The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

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The mission of the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation is to encourage and inspire future innovation in America.

History

In 1976, the Bicentennial issue of Life magazine declared that Francis Cabot Lowell’s factory in Waltham was the fourth most important development to shape America.

Unfortunately, Lowell’s factory was virtually dead when it received the honor. After 150 years of production, the historic facility was shuttered, neglected, and perilously close to demolition.

Luckily, the mill’s fortunes soon turned. The site was granted status on the National Register of Historic Places. Waltham received a $10 million urban revitalization grant, which allowed the site to be renovated and preserved.

As part of the site’s renovation, a group of cultural, civic, and business leaders created the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in what had been the mill’s massive steam-powered engine and boiler rooms. Following a monumental campaign of fundraising, cleaning, building, planning, and installation, the museum began operation in 1980.

Exhibits

Textile History

The museum is located in the 1814 textile mill recognized as the world’s first integrated factory.

Watches & Clocks

In our Watch & Clock gallery you’ll learn the story of the Waltham Watch Company and how it shaped the future of our country’s manufacturing success.

Steam Power

Water power gave birth to the industrial revolution, but it was steam that drove its growth.

Transportation

Did you know that New England became the country’s largest producer of cars before the 1920s? Find out how.

Machine Shop

One of our most popular areas is the Machine Shop – a re-creation of a production facility from around the turn of the 20th century.

Marvelous Machines

Each one of our curious machines is fascinating and in its own way beautiful. You’ll never think about machines the same way again!

Museum Library

The museum houses a specialized collection of photos, and ephemera relating to watch and clock making, textile manufacturing, and much more.

Hidden History Tour

Become a History Hunter, Explore Waltham’s Innovative Past.

Visiting the museum

Accessibility

All areas within the museum are wheelchair accessible. However, the museum’s front entrance is not. Wheelchairs need to use a designated entrance, so please call ahead for directions. If you need to borrow a wheelchair, one is available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Motorized wheelchairs are permitted.

Interactivity

The museum features several interactive displays that are both educational and fun. Kids especially love our antique telephone switchboard, foot-powered player piano, steam engines, and 19th century fire engine. Be sure to ask for a demonstration of our room-shaking machine shop in action!

Museum Tours

Many visitors prefer to explore the museum on their own, but we’re happy to give tours as well. Just ask at the admission desk. For groups of 10 or more, please call ahead to arrange a tour guide. Tours are free with museum admission.

Tips and museum policies about food and drink, photography, strollers, and more

  • The museum is located at the very back of the mill complex. Keep the giant smokestack in view; we’re located just below it.
  • Parking: Most of our visitors park in the Municipal Parking Lot on Pine Street, but there are several public parking lots and meters within walking distance.
  • Where to Eat: Waltham has more than 100 great restaurants, many of which are found near the museum on Moody or Main Street. Choose from incredible ethnic cuisine, fine dining, or good old American. Click here for more information.
  • Food and Drinks in the Museum: Food and drinks are not allowed in the museum galleries except during private functions.
  • Photography: Still photography and video in the museum is permitted for personal use only. Tripods and lighting can be used with permission. Commercial photography/videography is by appointment only; location fees apply. No photographs or video may be reproduced, sold, or distributed without permission of the museum.
  • Coats: Coat racks are available. Please do not leave valuables. The museum is not responsible for lost or stolen items.
  • Strollers: Baby strollers are allowed throughout the museum.
  •  No Smoking: Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the museum.
  •  Make a day of it: become a history hunter and try out our Hidden History Tour.
  •  Special Events: See what events are happening today at the Museum.