The Heinz museum is located on the fourth floor of the Senator John Heinz History Center. The center which is located in the historic Strip District of Pittsburgh has been in continuous existence since 1879. The center chronicles 250 years history of Western Pennsylvania with particular interest in the wars (The British, French, and Indian war of 1754-1763; World War II); sports, manufacturing (Glass, Heinz Co.) and the abolition of slavery. The center has six floors and each of these are accessible through an elevator or SmartSteps. SmartSteps are an innovative idea that nudge visitors to the center lead healthier lives by walking more. You can pick up a SmartSteps card at the entrance to each floor and after successfully climbed the steps to a floor, you can have it stamped. At the end of the visit, you will receive a surprise gift for using steps rather than the elevator.The Heinz museum fits into the overall mission of the History Center to link the past, understand the present and to guide the future. The exhibits and the statements accompanying them are not only things that happened in the distant past but continue to show the evolving nature of the Heinz company.
The exhibits open with the life of Henry John Heinz, the founder of the company. His life story is very brief and it is made to connect with the present company. Unlike some company museums that could have spent a lot of floor space focusing on this man who built this company, the museum’s focus is on how the company has evolved in its product lines and become the successful American company it is today. The story of Henry Heinz’s life is not told amidst larger than life’s sculptors or paintings of him but a small sculptor of him as a little boy holding a basket of vegetables harvested from the mum’s garden. Underneath the small table he is sitting on are large pile of fresh vegetables on the floor. The fresh vegetables are the primary ingredients in today’s Heinz products. The floor around the fresh vegetables is painted colorfully and has text that tells the early growth of the company. This opening exhibit is symbolic as it shows the link between the founder and the early years of the company with the present time.
Other exhibits in the museum include his office desk, some figurines he brought back during his tour of the world, the bankruptcy discharge certificate of 1885, vintage television advertisements, staff uniforms and the different bottles that have been used over the years to pack and market Heinz products.
Exhibits are listed in a chronologically way beginning from the early years of the company to the present. Today, Heinz is better known for its tasty ketchup. The exhibits emphasize the fact that Heinz was not always a ketchup company. So, the exhibits show the earlier products such as the Horse Radish, the baked beans, mustard, etc. and the bottles that they were packed in. Because the museum is very small and only half of a single floor, it s easy to navigate. There are time periods boldly written on the floors and also in small plaques that are placed by items. On the floor of the museum is a big painting of the map of the world reflecting the geographical spread of Heinz products since its humble beginnings.
On the third floor of the history center are hands-on-history exhibits for children and other floors have some interactive activities as well. The Heinz museum has just a single interactive activity and it is not very interactive. It requires you to pick up one of three Heinz product bottles and placed them on a pad in the table beneath the projector. Then, you have the projector display a video about that product and how it is used in meals today. I found this to be an activity that children may enjoy watching but it was quickly boring to me.
While the History Center itself had a few visitors (I counted about 17 in total), the Heinz museum had no visitors at all. Throughout the two hours I spent in it, there was not a single person that stopped by, not even the curators or tour guides. Perhaps, it was the time of the day I visited. I visited the museum on a Tuesday morning. The Center has things that would attract students on field trips or history buffs but I do not think the Heinz museum is one that will attract many to make a trip solely to see. The museum may be made more attractive to visitors if many exhibits on the manufacturing process of the products are introduced and more interactive activities are included. The presence of audio guides that discuss in more details the history of the company and the different artifacts will provide more educational opportunities for people visiting without a human tour guide or those with vision impairments.
The Museum’s Digital Presence
The museum’s digital presence is part of the website of the History Center. Unlike the physical exhibit that presents a chronological history of the company and its product lines, the website does not do this. The website does not try to be the digital version of the museum but serves the purpose of pointing people to what is available in the physical museum and to interest them to make a physical visit.
The webpage of the museum opens up with a large photo of the Ketchup Bottle of Bottles which is found at the physical museum. This is an 11-foot tall ketchup bottle made of several hundreds of glass ketchup bottles. Then the website goes on to give a general overview of the museum and the exhibits that are a must-see. One artifact is highlighted at the beginning of the website. This is the Heinz Pickle Sizer from the early 1900s. A one-minute audio history of Heinz Co. is given by the President and CEO of the History Center, Andy Masich.
The website has both the photo gallery and the artifact gallery. The photo gallery contains sixteen photographs taken of different cross sections of the museum. You can click on these photos to see their larger versions. The artifact gallery has fifteen photos of some artifacts that are present in the museum. These include the bankruptcy document from 1885, the keystone pickle sorter from 1878 and the baked beans advertisement from 1910. Clicking on the images in the artifact gallery will also open larger versions of the photos.
Like the physical museum, the digital presence also lacks interactive activities. Visitors to the website can share the page on social media such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+. They can also email the page. The website is basically one page without any navigations except clicking back to the History Center’s main page. There are no options to interact with the website’s creators digitally. Visitors to this website will only find it useful to the extent that it provides them some information on what to expect at the physical museum. It does not replace an actual visit to the museum. The site could have integrated some basic elements from the museum such as providing a chronological timeline of Henry John Heinz and his company. They could introduce interactive elements such as games, feedback, etc. in the digital version. The items in the artifacts gallery could be accompanied with a little bit of history. For example, the Heinz Baked Beans advertisement could answer questions such as, who was the author of the ad? where did it appear? how was it received? That information is not provided online. My question is, why should anyone be interested in seeing a bland picture of an advert at the museum if there is no significance to it? My guess is that it has some meaning and that is why the curators decided to include it among the fifteen artifacts presented online Or perhaps, they just had a random selection.
The Heinz museum is educative and informative. I will recommend it to all for the simple reason that Heinz is a brand that is found in millions of homes around the world and it is important to understand its humble beginnings. It reminds us of how the discipline, dedication and inspiration of a single person can have an enormous impact on the world.