The Evolution of the Nuclear Bomber

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.

Continue reading The Evolution of the Nuclear Bomber

Shays Rebellion

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.

Continue reading Shays Rebellion

Icons of Aviation: Macchi C.202 Folgore

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.

Continue reading Icons of Aviation: Macchi C.202 Folgore

Ramen: A History of Every College Kid’s Favorite Food

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.


Continue reading Ramen: A History of Every College Kid’s Favorite Food

Game of Kings: The History of Chess

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.


Continue reading Game of Kings: The History of Chess

Forgotten mysteries, oddities and unknown stories from history, nature and science.