The Smithsonian Magazine breaks down the history of the Fisher Space Pen, including the old myth about how the Russians just used pencils instead.
“a board sign which announced in fading paint but one word: STORE. Just in case the traveler might be in some doubt.”
Harrods, in the bustling heart of London, is in a good location for a shop. So is the Macy’s in Herald Square, which boasts of serving 350,000 New Yorkers every day at Christmas time. Whereas down at the Mulka Store, in the furthermost reaches of South Australia, George and Mabel Aiston used to think themselves lucky if they pulled in a customer a week.The Loneliest Shop In The World [more inside]
The unexpectedly fascinating story of pantyhose in wartime, via Smithsonian Magazine (part 1, part 2).
For a few people, fascination with pogo sticks didn't end in childhood. The Smithsonian takes a look at the design challenges, and the sport, of modern pogo. They also provide a short video demonstrating these advances. [more inside]
Bill Moggridge, 1943-2012 "I think it's always wise to remember to use the dirtiest method you possibly can at the time. Use the quickest thing and the simplest thing for the stage you're at." Bill Moggridge, designer, co-founder of IDEO and director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, died after a battle with cancer on September 8 2012. [more inside]
The first human-powered aircraft to achieve sustained and controlled flight, the Gossamer Condor (6.3 MB PDF), now belongs to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2.2 MB JPG). So you'll need to build your own. (previously)
The secret history of deodorant: How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad
As you turn eyes to London to watch this year's Olympics, you might be surprised to find out that the City of London has a population of about 11,000 and is only one square mile. [more inside]
Quite Likely The Worst Job Ever: 'The men who made it their living by forcing entry into London’s sewers at low tide and wandering through them, sometimes for miles, searching out and collecting the miscellaneous scraps washed down from the streets above' [more inside]
The Ax Murderer Who Got Away - Shortly after midnight on June 10, 1912—one hundred years ago this week—a stranger hefting an ax lifted the latch on the back door of a two-story timber house in the little Iowa town of Villisca. [more inside]
What Did The Rebel Yell Sound Like? (video): 'From the early 1900's through the 1940's, Civil War veterans were filmed, recorded and interviewed at reunions, parades, and other patriotic events where, as the century advanced, they came increasingly to seem like ambulatory trophies from some distant age of heroes.'
“Kipper und Wipper”: Rogue Traders, Rogue Princes, Rogue Bishops and the German Financial Meltdown of 1621-23
Artist Doug Aiken's projection installation, Song 1 on the façade of the donut-shaped Hirshhorn Museum in DC opened last night. The work is a looped video installation of many people singing "I Only Have Eyes for You." It's very atmospheric and finally brings some art that enlivens the somewhat strange shape of the museum's exterior. I heard him speak and then got to see the installation. It's beautiful. If you're in DC definitely come down to the National Mall after dusk (projection runs nightly until midnight).
Take a Panoramic Virtual Tour of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Available as a full-screen virtual tour starting entry rotunda and navigating from there, or jump to individual rooms.
“We shall have a man in the White House who will feel as responsible for American civilization as he does for American power and prosperity.”
"It was no accident that arts funding was once again brought to national attention with the exhibit Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Since the 80s, the enemies of the NEA have not been those with differences of opinion about what art should be supported or how. Instead they oppose any support at all for art of any kind." Hide/Seek, Culture Wars and the History of the NEA (NSFW, art)
From May 12, 1939 to June 30, 1949, a fleet of Stinson Reliants were used for a unique form of mail pick-up and delivery: skyhooking. Similar in notion to the mail-on-the-fly and mail cranes used along rail lines, the Reliants would fly low, deposit one load of mail and pick up the next, without stopping, providing mail service to rural communities. The Smithsonian National Postal Museum has a 39 minute documentary presentation on YouTube, but it's a guy talking over powerpoint slides, which is pretty dry. Instead, here is a modern news report with interviews of a skyhook pilot and old newsreel footage.
American Sabor: Latinos in US Popular Music is a currently traveling Smithsonian exhibition exploring the wide range of Latino artists and influences which have shaped American pop music genres since WWII, from Alice Bag to Flaco Jimenez to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to Joan Baez. The website is rich with maps, interviews, videos, and music samples.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is working to make many of their digital archives accessible online: These include everything from the distress call of a young howler monkey to courting poison dart frogs, to the sound of morning amongst the mangroves - not to mention more than 40,000 photographs and 1500 documents all related to STRI's work in Panama and across the tropics.
Smithsonian Magazine's new blog Past Imperfect has already told some interesting stories in its first weeks, but none more compelling than that of Lt. Commander Minter Dial's Annapolis class ring.
How do you make someone cry for science? A Smithsonian magazine talks about a 2-minute 45-second clip from The Champ, starring a young Rick(y) Schroeder. [more inside]
Hidden Tunnels, Bugs, and Bigamy: A Strange and True D.C. Story: "Reports indicated that the tunnels were long and extensive – that they may have reached as far as Rock Creek Park. Some electric lighting was discovered inside. For days, wild theories abounded – was it a Confederate soldier hideout? A stop on the Underground Railroad? A liquor depot for bootleggers? A counterfeiter’s lair? Or maybe a secret laboratory for 'Dr. Otto von Golph’s' experiments?
None of the above." [more inside]
None of the above." [more inside]
The Smithsonian asks: Who had the best Civil War Facial Hair?
"The 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) has catalogued more than 43,000 galaxies within 380 million light-years from Earth. In this projection, the plane of the Milky Way runs horizontally across the center of the image. 2MRS is notable for extending closer to the Galactic plane than previous surveys - a region that's generally obscured by dust." Hires image.
The Smithsonian's forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture won't open until 2015, but it has already made a number of important acquisitions, including most recently, the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership.
Four Photographers on Three Wheels: William Eggleston's Tricycle and Before. Mark Feeney's lecture examines the humble tricycle in twentieth century photography. He compares photos by Helen Levitt, Garry Winogrand, Bill Owens and, of course, William Eggleston.
Historically Hardcore is an awesome fake advertising campaign for the Smithsonian. Created as a portfolio project by two students, the ads have gone viral and the Smithsonian is none too pleased about it.
Who invented the cloacascope? Who could pinpoint minute structural characteristics of charred bird feathers and identify the bird species or family based on the feathers? Who was the oldest of 15 children and worked for more than 50 years at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History? Roxie (large image). Roxie C. Laybourne, feather detective, pioneer of forensic ornithology. [more inside]
Smithsonian Wild is a collection of over 200,000 pictures of animals taken by "camera traps", automated cameras with motion sensors. Each species is linked to its article in the Encyclopedia of Life, and the entire set of photos is also available on Flickr.
Richard Amsel was a Philadelphian artist who created original and iconic illustrations and paintings found on posters for several popular 1970s and 80s American movies, including Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome, The Dark Crystal, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Sting. He also created unique artwork for TV Guide covers, as well as album cover art for Bette Midler and others. His Time cover featuring Lily Tomlin was added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
Our wisdom teeth need to be pulled because our brains are too big: The Top Ten Daily Consequences of Having Evolved
Smithsonian to exhibit videogames as art. Jason Scott Completes GET LAMP. Can this day be any better?
The Art of Videogames, a Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit set to open in March 2012, has been featured on CNN today. But you don't have to wait until 2012 to get your fix of gaming history. CNN has let the cat out of the scanner: our very own Jason Scott (jscott) has finished GET LAMP. It's now shipping! [more inside]
Beans are bullets. Potatoes are powder. An exhibition of food posters from the National Agricultural Library.
40 Things You Need to Know About the Next 40 Years For it's 40th anniversary issue, Smithsonian magazine asks experts in various fields for insights into our future and compiles a list of 40 predictions about the future of science, nature, the arts and technology. The feature essay is by President Obama, in which he explains why he's optimistic about America's future. (VIA) [more inside]
View, rotate, and interact with fascinating 3D scans of some of humanity's oldest artifacts. [more inside]
HDR photography seems to be polarizing. People either love it, or hate it, including here on MeFi. For those who enjoy exploring the possibilities HDR presents, a good place to start is Stuck In Customs. Trey Ratcliff has the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian. He offers a comprehensive, six-step HDR tutorial if you want to try it yourself. A sampling of his HDR travel photography is here, and throughout the site, and he is also experimenting with HDR video technology. [more inside]
I'm 100% sure that if it hadn't been for Mrs. Hill in fourth grade and a few others, I would have absolutely ended up in jail. A timeless and fascinating 1995 interview with Steve Jobs.
Saturday, September 26th, the Smithsonian museum family and their affiliates will be hosting a free admission event, if you go to their MUSEUM DAY site and print out the admission coupon. One coupon = 1+ admission. [more inside]
Rocks from Heaven “…A party of the inhabitants of the town of Casas Grandes, as a matter of curious speculation, commenced excavating in the old ruins there. One more fortunate than the others drifted into a large room, in the middle of which there appeared to be a kind of tomb made of adobe-brick. Curiosity led this bold knight of the crowbar to renew his excavations, he found a large mass of meteoric iron in the middle of the tomb, carefully and curiously wrapped with a kind of coarse linen.” [more inside]
Web Tech Guy and Angry [Museum] Staff Person. A very funny animation for the museums workers and librarians subset of Mefites. From Michael Edson at Smithsonian 2.0.
Circuits are flipping on in the nation's attic. A couple of weeks ago, 31 "digerati" -- like Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, and George Oates -- dropped in to the Smithsonian Institution for the invitation-only conference "Smithsonian 2.0: A Gathering to Re-imagine the Smithsonian in the Digital Age". Dan Cohen of the Center for History and New Media provides a great summary (and continues to pose provocative questions) on his own blog. Those whose invitations were somehow lost in the mail can play fly-on-the-wall by watching the keynotes, paging through the Flickr pool of envymaking glimpses of their behind-the-scenes lab and collections tours, reading the blog (where Bruce Wyman of the Denver Art Museum lays out a succinct road map for museums using social media), and poking around in the SI's website gallery. Want to cheer on the USA's favorite 163-year-old "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge" without taking the trip to DC? Thanks to their recent efforts, you can now follow the SI on Twitter, listen to its podcasts, watch its YouTube channel, visit the Latino Virtual Museum in Second Life, or use the FaceBook gifts page to send your best friends their very own pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, Hope diamond, Negro Leagues baseball, or coelocanth.
The Folkways Collection is a downloadable, 24-part podcast series that "explores the remarkable collection of music, spoken word, and sound recordings that make up Folkways Records (now at the Smithsonian as Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)."
The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 — Authorized and funded by the U.S. government, six ships sailed with 346 men (including officers, crew, scientists, and artists) on a four-year scientific and surveying mission, logging 87,000 miles around the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Two ships and 28 men were lost, and the Expedition's contentious commander Charles Wilkes was court-martialled for his erratic behavior, and was sued by former officers and crew members. During the Civil War in 1861, he boarded a British ship, seized two Confederate agents, and nearly provoked military retaliation by England (he was court-martialled once again in 1864 for insubordination.) Wilkes' 1845 Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition and the Ex. Ex.'s journals were published by Congress, and some 40 tons of Expedition specimens and artifacts became the foundation of the Smithsonian Institution's collections. [Nathaniel Philbrick (video lecture) chronicles this almost-forgotten voyage in his 2003 book Sea of Glory (NYT review).]
The Smithsonian has a Flickr page as part of the Flickr Commons program. So far there are 6 sets, Portraits of Scientists and Inventors, Portraits of Artists, American Celebrations, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, People and the Post and Smithsonian's First Photographer, featuring the work of Thomas William Smillie. [via The New Yorker's Book Bench]
Explore the playful side of invention and the inventive side of play in Invention at Play. Learn how play connects to the creative impulse of both historic and contemporary inventors. [more inside]
Sounds of America is a new monthly streaming audio program, a collaboration between the National Museum of American History and Smithsonian Global Sound. Up now are 3 episodes: African-American music in New Orleans, Women in American Music, and Freedom Songs of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.