Boston’s Innovation Trail

In a reversal of roles two weekends ago, I became a tour attendee rather than the tour giver when I experienced the Boston/Cambridge Innovation Trail. Inspired by the well-known Freedom Trail, the Innovation Trail is a grassroots initiative consisting of 21 stops beginning at Downtown Crossing in Boston and ending in Central Square in Cambridge. If you’re doing the self-guided version, you can reverse course and begin in Cambridge and end in Boston.

Besides the smart phone-based self-guided tour, you can also attend one led by a knowledgeable and energetic guide, with these guided tours being offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from May through October. Detailed information about the guided tours, including how to purchase tickets, is available on the Innovation Trail website.

Here are the tour’s official stops:

  • 30 School Street – workplace of Lewis Latimer, the skilled draftsman who turned the rough sketches of Alexander Graham Bell into precise drawings that earned Bell the patent for the telephone.
  • Tremont Temple – site of the first screening of a movie filmed in Technicolor which was invented by two MIT graduates.
  • King’s Chapel Burying Ground – The resting place of Frederick Tudor who became one of America’s first millionaires by selling ice harvested from frozen ponds in Massachusetts to customers across the world.
  • Government Center T Stop – Nearby in the early 1700s, an enslaved man named Onesmus introduced Rev. Cotton Mather to smallpox inoculation which Mather then championed.
  • Outside the JFK Federal Building – workshop of Charles Williams Jr. (born in East Chelmsford) where the majority of the earliest telephones were made.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital – the first use of ether which allowed for pain-free surgery.
  • Museum of Medical History and Innovation – On the grounds of MGH showing many medical firsts from the hospital’s history.
  • Museum of Science – Founded in 1830 as the Boston Society of Natural History.
  • Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) – a high tech incubator that is home to more startups and venture capital firms than any other building on the planet.
  • Entrepreneur’s Walk of Fame – outside the Kendall Square Marriot – created in 2011 and featuring inventors like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs.
  • MIT Museum – showcases ongoing research at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Google – Sprawling office employing 2000 people focused on Android operating system for smart phones.
  • Stata Center – Houses MIT labs focused on computer science, artificial intelligence, and robotics.
  • Broad Discovery Center – cutting edge research on disease and treatments through better understanding of the human genome.
  • Whitehead Institute – assembly of the world’s top biomedical researchers in one building seeking better understanding of infectious diseases and cancer.
  • Biogen – one of the world’s earliest biotech companies, founded by Nobel Prize winning professors from Harvard and MIT.
  • Akamai – the company that accelerated the internet by operating 300,000 servers around the world.
  • Draper Labs – An independent R&D lab that originated within MIT, Draper is best known for creating the guidance computers that allowed the Apollo spacecraft to land on the moon.
  • Moderna – Founded in 2010 to explore the potential of RNA, Moderna developed one of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines.
  • LabCentral – Office of Edwin Land who invented the instant camera and created Polaroid, used today by dozens of startup biotech companies that share lab space within.
  • The Last Candy Factory – Owned by Tootsie Brands, and the place where Junior Mints are made, this is the last one of 66 candy factories that once operated in Cambridge.

Alexander Graham Bell’s workbench

The tour I went on was a hybrid that celebrated the start of the tour season. While we didn’t have time to visit all of the stops on the official tour, we were admitted into Verizon’s non-public telephone museum located at the corner of Cambridge and Sudbury Streets. There, we saw the wooden garret in which Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. The wooden walls, bench, and other fixtures have been painstakingly disassembled and reassembled with each successive move of the phone company to new quarters.

The tour was wonderful; the walk across the Charles River on the Longfellow Bridge was wonderful; and walking through what is billed as “the most innovative square mile on the planet” was inspirational. Please put the Innovation Tour on your list of things to do this summer.

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