Special thanks to Monica Reardon, Smithsonian Affiliations summer intern, for authoring the 2013 Smithsonian #MuseumDayLive! blog series.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum, located in Peoria, Illinois, focuses on interdisciplinary learning, ranging from art to science to history and then some. The space includes a planetarium, a sculpture garden, art studios, gallery spaces, and more. The museum even has a “Green Tour,” which showcases the museum’s sustainable aspects. Most importantly, it plays a role in the community it is in.
In fact, this Affiliate found a piece of its own community’s history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “Old Betsy,” a 1931 prototype of the first diesel engine mass-produced by Caterpillar, Inc. was brought back to Peoria. The engine is now an iconic object in the museum’s display of local history, and in the telling of the story of local manufacturing and innovation. On loan to the museum since 2012, visitors during Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! can get a close-up look at the 3,500 pound “Old Betsy,” officially called Caterpillar Diesel Engine No. 1.
“Probably the most rewarding aspect of having “Old Betsy,” as the engine prototype has long been known, on display at Peoria Riverfront Museum is the reaction of retired Caterpillar, Inc. employees who see it. .They immediately comment on their memories of the engine when it was displayed at Cat” noted Kristan H. McKinsey, Curator at Peoria Riverfront Museum. These memories can lead to “multi-generational conversations about a myriad of topics such as farming, invention, Caterpillar and this community.”
She adds “I hope that visitors might understand that museums play many roles in society, and “Old Betsy” demonstrates several of them.”
Check out a video from a local Peoria news station on the arrival of “Old Betsy” here- Historic piece comes to museum