This paper describes the design, analysis and characterization of a prototype active column that applies distributed MEMS technology to a relatively new and technically challenging problem in smart structure design: the active stabilization of a buckling compressive member. The axial load bearing capacity of structural members can be increased by actively controlling the dynamic instability of buckling. Effective active stabilization is dependent on three primary factors: sensor precision, actuator authority, and control system bandwidth. A networked array of MEMS sensors, filamentary PZT actuators, and recently developed optimal control strategies are combined to demonstrate active control of an inherently unstable column. The active system, designed and simulated using finite element and optimization methods, stabilizes the column for compressive axial loads up to 2.94 times the critical buckling load. Additionally, the system is stable for all loads in the range from tension to this maximum compressive axial load.