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A museum exhibit explores Oklahoma's economic history

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Crossroads of Commerce exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Crossroads of Commerce exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.

Oklahoma History Center celebrated its 10th anniversary last week as it unveiled a new permanent exhibit, Crossroads of Commerce: A History of Free Enterprise in Oklahoma.

The 8,000-square-foot, interactive display “connects the dots” between Oklahoma’s economic development through five time periods between 1716 and present day, said Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society executive director.

“The story is made up of little mini biographies of businessmen and women who have been willing to take a risk, saw an opportunity to invest and created a business that generated jobs, paid taxes, built infrastructure and, ultimately, opened doors for others or contributed back to society through charities and good works and making a difference in the quality of life,” Blackburn said.

The history center began work on Crossroads of Commerce two years ago, he said, an ambitious timeframe to collect stories and artifacts and complete research, as the project spans almost three centuries of Oklahoma development.

“If you think about our history, everything we can do in terms of education, home construction, the development of cities, the demand for gasoline and oil and natural gas — everything comes back to the economy,” said Blackburn, who has worked with the historical society for 37 years. “What was driving the wheels of the economy to create jobs, to give people a sense of hope, to move to Oklahoma first, to invest their times and resources? What gave people the opportunity to raise families and to retire? So we wanted to tackle this through almost 300 years of one generation following the next.”

The exhibit includes well-known, state-founded enterprises like Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Sonic Corp. and its popular drive-in eateries and the Chicken in the Rough restaurant chain founded by Beverly and Rubye Osborne in Oklahoma City.

“Depending on the age, I think everyone will recognize a lot of the names and the stories,” Blackburn said. “All of these dots are connected, and I think people will enjoy learning how those are connected, and especially, I think a lot people will enjoy the shared memories.”

Crossroads of Commerce exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Crossroads of Commerce exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.

Other exhibit facets highlight agricultural developments like gristmills, cotton gins and grain elevators.

Cultural markers include a TG&Y store in the 1950s, a Thunder scoreboard from Chesapeake Energy Arena, WKY-Radio and WKY-TV studios, a newspaper printing operation, and Shelter/Church Studio and historic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.

Aviation history, including an actual truss from Oklahoma City’s Wiley Post Hangar and a simulated flight in the cockpit of a Lockheed Vega monoplane, also is on display.

“For the first time, we’re putting [our history] together to show how one investment opens the door for another and it changes the stage of history and each new generation walks onto that stage and hopefully overcomes the challenges and says, ‘I’m going to move it forward,’” Blackburn said. “We’re connecting the dots through time, through different companies, to give this big picture of how we’ve evolved through the history of free enterprise.”

Crossroads of Commerce will evolve with Oklahoma’s rapidly changing economy, he said, and there are plans to add to the exhibit by the end of 2016.

“With only 8,000 square feet, we can only tell several hundred stories, and there are many more out there,” he said. “We are a collective agency; that’s our job: to collect stories and objects. ... We hope to have many more opportunities to bring in the collections and add to this exhibit and keep it changing in a dynamic way.”

Oklahoma History Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. Learn more about the exhibit and find museum hours at okhistory.org.

Print Headline: Unhampered history, Crossroads of Commerce: A History of Free Enterprise in Oklahoma takes Oklahoma History Center visitors on a ride through three centuries of free enterprise development in the state.

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