Back In Business

Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History reopens after major renovations

As you mount a shallow ramp in the heart of the Smithsonian's newly renovated National Museum of American History (NMAH), your eyes dilate in the dimming light. Turn left and there lies the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag designed with 15 stars and 15 stripes, so close that it seems you could reach out and touch its tattered fly edge. It's tattered because one star and many, many swatches—about eight-feet worth—were cut away and sold for souvenirs before this surviving 30-by-34-foot icon came to the Smithsonian for safekeeping. Read more »

Presenting The Presidents

A major new installation at the Smithsonian Institution explores the nation’s biggest and most important job

On November 15, just a week after the first presidential election of the new millennium, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History will open an ambitious new exhibition, “The American Presidency.” The 7,000-square-foot show will cover all 41 past American Presidents and will be organized thematically, not chronologically. Its sections will include “Presidential Campaigns,” “Inaugural Celebrations,” “Life at the White House,” “Assassinations and Mourning,” “The Media and the Presidency,” and “Life After the Presidency.”

 
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Dusting Off America’s First Dinosaur

It was discovered in New Jersey in 1858, was made into full-size copies sent as far away as Edinburgh, and had a violent run-in with Boss Tweed in 1871. Now, after fifty years out of view, the ugly brute can be seen in Philadelphia.

During the summer of 1858 almost no one in the United States had even heard of dinosaurs. The term itself was only seventeen years old, having been coined by Sir Richard Owen in 1841 to describe a few scattered bones and teeth found in England some two decades before. Several colossal models had been built on the grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, England, but even with Owen’s expertise they bore little resemblance to the iguanodons and megalosaurs they were supposed to portray.Read more »

I Love Washington

A noted historian’s very personal tour of the city where so much of the American past took shape—with excursions into institutions famous and obscure, the archives that are the nation’s memory, and the haunts of some noble ghosts

The only one of our Presidents who retired to Washington after leaving office was Woodrow Wilson, and for all his celebrated professorial background he certainly did it in style. Ten of his friends chipped in ten thousand dollars each to cover most of the cost of a house of twenty-two rooms on S Street, just off Embassy Row. S Street was quiet and sedate then and it remains so. But once, on Armistice Day 1923, twenty thousand people came to cheer Wilson. They filled the street for five blocks. I have seen the photographs.Read more »

Resurrection

The John Bull Steams Again

In early September of 1831, Isaac Dripps, master mechanic of the nascent Camden and I Amboy Railroad, stood staring at a miscellaneous assortment of bolts, levers, and pipes I that he was expected to assemble into a working locomotive. The engine had been ordered by the New Jersey line from Robert Stephenson of Newcastle, England, then the world’s leading locomotive builder, who had shipped it across the Atlantic in parts, accompanied by nothing much in the way of instructions.Read more »

“God Pity A One-Dream Man”

The Ordeal of Robert Hutchings Goddard

In 1901, just after Christmas, in Worcester, Massachusetts, a sickly nineteen-year-old high school student named Robert Hutchings Goddard sat down to compose an essay on an enterprise of surpassing technological challenge. He was no stranger to enterprise. He had already tried to fly an aluminum-foil balloon filled with hydrogen gas and attempted to build a perpetual-motion machine. Samuel P.Read more »

Getting To Know The National Domain

One hundred years ago, Congress created two agencies—the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ethnology. Both, according to the author, have since “given direction, form, and stimulation to the science of earth and the science of man, and in so doing have touched millions of lives.”

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