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Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Powerhouse Museum and its Precursors 1880-2005


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Yesterday’s Tomorrows has been published to celebrate the Powerhouse Museum’s 125th anniversary. Edited by eminent historian and author Graeme Davison with the museum’s senior curator of Australian history and society, Kimberley Webber, this richly illustrated and engaging book looks at the Museum’s fascinating history and beyond.

Essays have been contributed by Powerhouse curators and external historians, academics and authors including Graeme Davison, Elizabeth Farrelly, Ross Gibson, Brigid Hains, Roy MacLeod, Martha Sear, Tim Sherratt, Peter Spearritt, Lucy Taksa, Richard White and Linda Young

Founded in 1880, the Powerhouse Museum is one of the oldest state museums in Australia and is world renowned for its diverse and significant collection, innovative exhibitions, research and publishing. Since 1883 when Sydney’s Industrial, Technological and Sanitary Museum – a precursor of the Powerhouse Museum – opened, it has been the place where people who visited could glimpse the future. In the 1890s the future was steam hammers, in the 1930s the marvel of plastic, in the 1950s television, in the 1980s computers and holograms, and in the 1990s virtual reality. Over the years, objects once displayed as ‘state-of-the-art’ have become icons in a history of innovation. The museum, in short, is an archive of ‘yesterday’s tomorrows’.

In keeping with this spirit of innovation, Yesterday’s Tomorrows breaks the institutional, chronological tradition of museum history. It traces the many interwoven stories about people, objects and events that have shaped the museum and its collection and links the history of the Powerhouse with the wider histories of museums, material culture, technology, design, the city and the nation.

This is a history of surprises. It tells little known stories about the museum’s role in researching essential oils from native plants and encouraging the use of native timbers in Australian buildings. And it relates the inside story of museum icons such as No 1 Loco, the Boulton and Watt engine and the Strasburg Clock.

For 125 years, the Powerhouse Museum and its precursors have enabled us to come and reflect on the past and see the future. Yesterday’s Tomorrows will invite readers to reflect on the ways in which technology and design have changed, and are still changing, our world.

Handsomely produced and richly illustrated this book is scholarly in its research and accessible and engaging in style and will be of interest to historians, curators, museologists, and students as well as general readers interested in museums and history.

Additional information

Weight 1.4 kg
Dimensions 28 x 22 x 2.2 cm


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SKU: MAAS-PUB-0033 Category:


Graeme Davison and Kimberley Webber (eds)


978 086840 985 6 (086840 985 5)

Date Of Publication



New South Books


Powerhouse Publishing in assoc. with UNSW Press

Book Format

paperback with flaps

Number Of Pages



Over 275 illustrations


280 x 220 mm