In the 1950s, the United States fell in love with the atom. The atomic bomb became the backbone of the US military, which drew up plans for everything from a nuclear hand grenade to a nuclear-powered jet bomber. The “Atoms For Peace” project proposed using atomic explosions to excavate canals and reservoirs, and producing commercial electricity with nuclear fission reactors. And the Ford Motor Company unveiled its design for an atomic-powered automobile called the “Nucleon”.
So how did an Egyptian mummy known as “Our Lady of the Nile” get to be exhibited in the small Museum of History in St Petersburg, Florida . . . ?
Our Lady of the Nile, St Petersburg Museum of History
After the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903, they made the Model A Flyer and the 1909 Military Flyer, but did not produce any of their designs in quantity until 1910, when the Model B went into production–and was hampered by a patent conflict.
Restored 1911 Wright Model B on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
The Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri, is a part of the Thomas Jefferson Western Expansion Memorial, commemorating the pioneers and settlers who moved into the new Louisiana Purchase and began the western expansion of the United States. The stainless steel monument is the tallest arch in the world, and is one of the primary tourist attractions in the city of St Louis.
The Gateway Arch
The First World War was a bloody stalemate. The Entente nations, France and England, sent wave after wave of troops charging across No Man’s Land against the entrenched German machine guns, only to have them mowed down in their thousands. In just the first hour of the Battle of the Somme, the British lost more troops than the Americans did in all of D-Day; at Verdun, the French Army was being lost in a deadly meat-grinder that took thousands of lives every day. It was mass slaughter on a scale that had never been seen before. All of Europe was ankle-deep in blood.
Then, in 1917, a remarkable thing happened–a huge portion of the French Army simply went on strike. They sat down in their trenches and flatly refused to carry out any more of the futile suicidal frontal assaults being ordered by their generals. The French Mutiny of 1917 was desperately hidden by the French and British governments, and the remarkable story remains little-known even today.
Cynognathus, a mammal-like reptile from the Triassic period. Smithsonian.
At the end of World War II in August 1945, the United States had a total of 15 B-29 strategic bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Today, the US maintains a ready strategic fleet of 76 B-52s, 63 B-1s, and 20 B-2 stealth bombers. In all, some 4800 strategic nuclear bombers were built between 1945 and 2014.
B-29 bomber “Enola Gay”, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center.
In 1786, just three years after the United States won its independence from Britain, an armed rebellion broke out in the state of Massachusetts. The Shays Rebellion shook the new nation, and nudged it towards rewriting its entire system of government–producing the Constitution that we have today.
A contemporary newspaper engraving depicting Daniel Shays and one of his lieutenants.
Every major city in the US has a zoo. For most children, trips to the zoo are a highlight of childhood. Today, there is a small but vocal movement to eliminate zoos. But zoos actually have a long history–a history that tracks our changing ideas about nature and our relationship to it.
The C.202 Folgore (“Lightning Bolt”) was the best Italian fighter plane to be produced during the Second World War. It was fast and maneuverable, and was the plane of choice for the Italian fighter aces on both sides of the war. Its one crippling flaw was its weak armament.
The Macchi C.202 Folgore, on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
It is the staple of college campuses and poor neighborhoods everywhere in the US, sold in grocery stores at six for a dollar. In Japan, there are over 1000 different local versions. In New York, luxury chefs serve bowls costing sixteen dollars apiece. It is Ramen. And here is its history–a history centering around imperialism, colonialism, war, occupation, economic power, and economic decline.
People have been playing board games for thousands of years. The oldest known board game is probably Mancala, an African game which moves pieces of seed, beans or pebbles around a series of pits. Mancala pits have been found carved into wood boards and stone floors from 7,000 years ago. In Egypt in 3000 BCE, people played a game called Senet: an elaborately inlaid Senet board was found in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb.
But by far the most famous of the board games is chess, with a history stretching back almost 1500 years.
photo by Adrian Pingstone, from Wiki Commons
Our modern computerized technological society began, over 2.5 million years ago, with a chimp-sized creature that knocked a few chips off the end of a rock.
Stone Age tools. Field Museum, Chicago