Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Museum Aims To Be A Model For Making Collections Available Via 3D Printing

These models of Benjamin Harrison, the nation's 23rd president, are available to print from the Presidential Site's collection.

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis was one of the first museums to offer free 3D printing of its art collection, all in an effort to make it more accessible to the public. It now hopes to be a model for other museums around the country.

The New Century eCollection initiative was made possible by the RB Annis Education Foundation and the Lilly Endowment funded an interactive website. Ultimately, these resources will allow access and printing of its 2D and 3D artifacts totaling 10,000 pieces. All focus on Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States who was born in North Bend, Ohio; graduated from Miami University and University of Cincinnati's law school; and made his home in Indiana.

The museum partnered with Indiana University-Purdue University, IUPUI for the project.

"This forward-looking initiative will open up an extraordinary range of original materials for exploration that have never been accessible in this way before," says Site President and CEO Charlie Hyde. "It will allow us as a museum to better preserve our collection for future generations by visually documenting artifacts in their entirety and open up new channels for the thrill of discovery."

Here is a video example of how it works

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential site hopes to be a model for other museums big and small who want to allow for 3D printing.

The world's largest museum, The Smithsonian, is now on board. Most of its collection, 137 million pieces, can be printed. This goes way beyond what is on display, only 2 percent of its collection. reports the British Museum has been printing its collection for more than a year, inspired by the work of University College London and its 3D printing project MicroPasts. The public apparently can easily replicate some of the 8 million works in the museum's collection.

It used a technique called photogrammetry (multiple photographs taken in a strategic pattern around the object) and the resulting output was rendered in 3D software.

At the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, some 3D print favorites are:

  • A cane with carved presidential faces
  • A chair made from Texas longhorns and diamonds that spell out Harrison's name

As part of a pilot project, the presidential site takes the 3D printed parts to the Indianapolis School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to let the students experience history.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.