The Museum of The Mundane Explains Why Bagels Have Holes And Why Manhole Covers Are Round

An investigation of the overlooked objects in our daily lives reveals some fascinating stories.

Amid the orgy of new products on display during NYCxDesign–from $8,000 sofas to potato-chip scented notepads and headless chicken lamps–designers at The Partners are bringing a little attention to some less-obvious examples of design from everyday life.


In the Museum of the Mundane, aka MoMu, the designers put up gallery placards around the city with a line or two about the origin behind things like Chinese take out boxes, clothes hangers, and the street sign.

Plastered to the front of a hot dog stand, a label includes a few basic facts (Mixed media on bun, 1880, 5x5x17 centimeters) and explains that the original American hot dogs were served with disposable gloves until an enterprising sausage salesman worked with his brother to design a specialized roll.

“We were looking at all of the high design that is celebrated in Design Week and wanted to celebrate some of the more overlooked objects that surround us,” says Nick Clark, creative director at The Partners. “These designers are people who have all been forgotten in a century, but without them we wouldn’t have life as we know it.”

The objects were chosen in part because of the interesting stories behind them. “It wasn’t so much the object itself, but the human story, and the point of breakthrough,” Clark says. “The guy who invented chain link fencing lived in a city that was well-known for weaving–all he did was go out and buy a weaving machine and figure out how to use it with wire. You can see the designers’ ingenuity.”

The temporary museum is up now on city streets, although it might be a little hard to find. “The plaques keep getting stolen,” Clark says. “But we’re okay with that–it’s not about the grandiose, it’s about the commonplace, and it was nice to be democratic about it. We just wanted to have a bit of fun and celebrate these long-forgotten individuals and their roles in shaping what we do.”

“As designers, we’re always curious,” he adds. “But this project has caused a lot of reexamination of the things we walk past every day.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.