Food and Drink, Special Events, The Features

America’s Test Kitchen & a Preview of the FOOD exhibit at the Museum of American History

The bespectacled and beloved Chris Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen, along with the show’s science editor, Guy Crosby, gave a little chat last week in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s preview of an upcoming exhibit, “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.”

Among the highlights, Kimball explained that unlike other cooking shows, he embraces showing failure on America’s Test Kitchen in order to remove any fears about cooking. “You never see food shows go, ‘This sucks!’” he said. The mission is often to find out why bad things happen to good recipes, he added. Throughout the presentation, Kimball made the case for why recipes should be tested scientifically and why he chooses to use his head rather than his heart when cooking. Additionally, the duo answered the audience’s cooking questions and dispelled various cooking myths such as searing the meat locks in juices and marinating meat makes it more tender.

After the presentation, we caught a sneak preview of the FOOD exhibit (see a few photos after the jump) that is currently being installed at the National Museum of American History and set to open to the public on November 20th. The 3,800-square-foot exhibit will examine major changes in food production, distribution, preparation and consumption in America from 1950 to 2000.

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Downtown, History, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

NMAI: Hear the Song of the Horse Nation

Photo courtesy of
‘DSC_0006′
courtesy of ‘bhrome’

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors this past weekend to a new exhibition, “A Song for the Horse Nation.” The exhibition, nestled on the third floor of the museum, tells the epic tale of the how the return of the horse to the Americas changed Native culture, from lifestyle to war to art and beyond. “For some Native peoples, the horse still is an essential part of daily life,” said exhibit curator Emil Her Many Horses (Ogala Lakota). “For others, the horse will always remain an element of our identity and our history. The Horse Nation continues to inspire, and Native artists continue to celebrate the horse in our songs, our stories, and our works of art.”

To walk the exhibit’s path is to walk side by side with the conjoined path of Native and horse. Though horses were introduced to the Native Americans relatively late in North American history—the early 1700s saw the initial widespread explosion of the horse from captured Spanish mounts in the southwest—the image of Indians astride these graceful animals is one that is common to modern Americans. The “Horse Nation” quickly entwined themselves with Native communities, forever altering tribal culture and the Indian way of life.

The Smithsonian’s exhibit seeks to give us a view into that not-so-distant past. But it’s more than just a simply history lesson: subtly but surely, “A Song for the Horse Nation” reveals how interwoven both horse and man became among 38 tribal communities from the Plains and Western United States. The horse was more than a beast of burden or a tool; the animal became a part of Native culture that still resonates among the people today. Continue reading

Downtown, Education, History, Special Events, The District, The Features, The Mall, We Love Arts

The Song of Emil Her Many Horses

Photo courtesy of
‘DSC_0027′
courtesy of ‘bhrome’

out of the earth / I sing for them
A Horse nation / I sing for them
out of the earth / I sing for them,
the animals / I sing for them.

~a song by the Teton Sioux

Emil Her Many Horses is, by first appearance, a quiet, unassuming gentleman. A museum specialist in the office of Museum Programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), he is responsible for the facility’s latest exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation.” A member of the Ogala Lakota nation of South Dakota, his expertise on the Northern and Southern Plains cultures is well served and seen in the exhibit that opens to the public tomorrow.

NMAI’s latest offering is a touching and brilliant display of how the horse has deeply impacted and affected Native cultures since their introduction to the Americas in the 17th century. “The exhibit tells the history of the horse; that they were here once before, migrated to Europe, and returned as the horse we know today,” explained Her Many Horses. “They changed Native culture. The horse had a major impact on hunting, warfare, travel, spirituality. These were big changes.” Changes that extend beyond the European vision of the animal.

Seen as a beast of burden, a tool, a weapon, the horse was brought and used by European explorers and colonists early in America’s “New World” history. And their introduction, according to many Natives, was probably one of the biggest positive changes brought about by the white man.

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History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Pneumatic Mail Delivery

Pneumatic Mail Container; photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution and the National Postal Musem

Today’s Smithsonian Snapshot looks at another method of mail delivery that dominated the early 20th century metropolitan landscape: the pneumatic mail container.

In the late 1890s, networks of pneumatic tube systems were installed under city streets to move the mail. Each pneumatic tube canister could hold up to 500 letters. The canisters, also known as carriers, were air compressed through the system, traveling in a spinning motion at an average of 35 miles per hour. At its peak productivity, 6 million pieces of mail traveled through the system daily at a rate of five carriers per minute.

In 1893, the first pneumatic tubes were introduced in Philadelphia; in 1897, the service started in New York City. Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis also eventually incorporated the system. By 1915, six cities (including Brooklyn) had more than 56 miles of pneumatic tubes pulsing under the streets.

During World War I, the Post Office Department suspended the service to conserve funding for the war effort. After the war service was restored in New York and Boston. By the 1950s, it became clear that the end of pneumatic tubes was in sight as increasing mail volumes and changing urban landscapes made it impractical. While post offices and businesses moved with relative ease, the underground pneumatic system did not.

History, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

Smithsonian Snapshot: Skyhooking

Skyhook container; photo courtesy National Postal Museum

In the 1930s, U.S. postal officials tried different ways of moving the mail. One technique was called “skyhooking,” which brought the mail to rural towns that had no adequate railway or highway mail routes. Unfortunately, the towns which needed this type of service usually did not have adequate landing fields for planes.

Although a low-flying airplane could simply drop a sack of mail onto the ground, the tricky part was getting ground mail into the moving plane. The Railway Mail Service’s successful on-the-fly mail exchange system provided the inspiration for an aviation experiment. Mail would be “caught” by a plane flying overhead and reeled up into the plane. Of course, catching the mail was not going to be easy. Continue reading

Eat Like Me, History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: The Ubiquitous Lunch Box

Lunch Box collection; Image courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Beginning in the 1950s, television transformed the lunch box from an ordinary food conveyor into a storyteller. The screen-like sides of the lunch box offered kids a new form of self-expression. Since then, the lunch containers carted to and from offices and school classrooms have reflected American culture. Certainly, no meal received more cultural “attention” than lunch.

Box makers paid for the right to use TV shows to promote lunch box sales. The studios used boxes to gain market exposure. And children acquired a new statement of their power and influence in the emerging world of mass-marketed consumer goods.

This selection of boxes and their drink containers from the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History explores that colorful heritage. And to spice up what may be a loooong day at the office, share with us what your favorite lunch box was while growing up!

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Happy 165th!

Bison on the Mall; Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives | Photographer unknown

Today in 1846, the U.S. Senate passed the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution by a vote of 26 to 13. The act was then signed into law by President James K. Polk. Among its provisions the Organic Act specifies a Board of Regents, Chancellor and Secretary and a suitable building with rooms for the reception and arrangement of objects of natural history including: a chemical laboratory, a library, a gallery of art, and lecture rooms. The Act also provided the transfer to the Institution of all objects of art, natural history, etc., belonging to the United States to Washington and the deposit in the Smithsonian of one copy of all publications copyrighted under the acts of Congress. Once established, the Smithsonian became part of the process of developing an American national identity—an identity rooted in exploration, innovation, and a unique American style.

To celebrate the Smithsonian’s 165th anniversary, the Institution is sharing the historic Smithsonian photograph above. It shows two American bison, also known as the American buffalo, in a paddock in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, now known as the Smithsonian Castle. The animals were acquired by the Department of Living Animals in 1887, which then became the National Zoological Park in 1890. This photograph was taken between 1887 and 1889.

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Smithsonian Snapshot: Owney the Mail Dog

Photo courtesy National Postal Museum

Tomorrow, one of the National Postal Museum’s most interesting objects is being commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp. During his lifetime, a scruffy mutt named Owney was the nation’s most famous canine. From 1888 until his death in 1897, Owney rode with Railway Mail Service clerks and mailbags all across the nation.

The Railway Mail Service clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot, marking his travels by placing medals and tags from his stops on his collar. By the early 1890s, the traveling postal dog was a regular feature in newspapers across the country as Owney visited town after town. Owney’s unusual life and wide-spread travels have inspired several children’s books. Elementary schools across the United States continue to use the story of Owney as a way to connect their students with those in other states by sending stuffed toy dogs from school to school through the mail accompanied by messages from students to one another.

When he died in 1897, the postal clerks refused to bury their beloved mascot. Clerks across the country asked that the dog receive the honor they considered he was due by being preserved and presented to the Post Office Department’s headquarters. Owney was kept on display there and then sent to the Smithsonian Institution in 1911.

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Lunar Command Module

Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia"; photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Forty-two years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Earth’s moon. Today’s Smithsonian Snapshot takes a look at the Columbia, the lunar command module for the first manned lunar landing mission. (The first Space Shuttle was named after this module.)

On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were launched from Cape Kennedy atop a Saturn V rocket. The Columbia was the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the mission in July 1969. This Command Module, no. 107, manufactured by North American Rockwell, was one of three parts of the complete Apollo spacecraft. The other two parts were the Service Module and the Lunar Module, nicknamed “Eagle.” The Service Module contained the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables while the Lunar Module was the two-person craft used by Armstrong and Aldrin to descend to the Moon’s surface on July 20.

The Columbia is the only portion of the spacecraft to return to Earth. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1970 following a NASA-sponsored tour of American cities and can be found as one of the primary exhibits at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

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Smithsonian Snapshot: Dumbo Flying Elephant Car

Dumbo Flying Elephant Car; Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland, the first Disney theme park and the only one created under the direction of Walt Disney, was opened to the public in Anaheim, Calif. The Dumbo car, pictured above, was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on June 9, 2005, on the occasion of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary.

The Dumbo Flying Elephant ride is an original Disneyland attraction and one of the most popular rides in the park. It features music and exciting aerial views, as well as fiberglass “elephant” cars as seen in this picture. The cars include an interactive lever that allows riders to control how high they fly. Remodeled in the 1980s, the ride was inspired by Disney’s 1941 movie, Dumbo.

The storyline of the film Dumbo is based on a 1939 children’s book written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Perl. Animated by Bill Tytla, the movie follows the young elephant as he is separated from his mother at the circus, only to be taunted by the other animals.

Interesting little factoid: When former President Truman visited Disneyland in 1957, he chose not to ride the Dumbo Flying Elephants, as the elephant is a symbol for the Republican party.

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Nakhla Meteorite

Nakhla metorite; photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution

On June 28, 1911, the Nakhla meteorite fell to Earth at approximately 9 a.m. in the Nakhla region of Alexandria, Egypt. Many people witnessed its explosion in the upper atmosphere before the meteorite dropped in about 40 pieces totaling 22 pounds; the fragments were buried in the ground up to a meter deep.

In August 1911, the Smithsonian received two samples of Nakhla; in 1962, it received the 480-gram piece of the meteorite shown in this photograph. By the 1970s, the Smithsonian had acquired a total of 650 grams of Nakhla’s fragments.

Nakhlites, Martian meteorites named for Nakhla, are igneous rocks that are rich in augite and were formed from basaltic magma about 1.3 billion years ago. Their crystallization ages, compared to a crater-count chronology of different regions on Mars, suggest the Nakhlites formed on the large volcanic regions of Tharsis, Elysium or Syrtis Major Planum.

It has been shown that the Nakhlites were suffused with liquid water around 620 million years ago and that they were ejected from Mars around 10.75 million years ago by an asteroid impact. They fell to Earth within the past 10,000 years.

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is on display at the National Museum of Natural History.

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Good Humor Truck

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot helps us to herald in the start of summer. Good Humor, the well-known “ice cream on a stick,” was created by candy-maker Harry Burt in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920.

His first candy invention was the Jolly Boy Sucker, a lollipop on a stick. While working in his ice cream parlor, Burt created his own recipe for a smooth chocolate coating that would be compatible with ice cream. His daughter Ruth performed the first taste test. Although it tasted good, Ruth thought it was too messy to eat. To solve this problem, Burt took the advice of his son, Harry Jr., who suggested freezing wooden sticks used for the Jolly Boy Sucker into the ice cream as handles. He named his new creation the Good Humor bar, capitalizing on the belief that a person’s “humor” or outlook on life was related to the humor of the palate. Burt immediately sent the patent to Washington, D.C.

From the beginning, Good Humor bars were peddled in gleaming white trucks by salesmen in white uniforms. By the mid-1930s, Good Humor bars were sold throughout most of the country. The pictured 1938 Chevrolet truck is believed to have operated in the Boston area.

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: The Star-Spangled Banner

Photo courtesy of
‘Old Glory’
courtesy of ‘Tyrannous’

In honor of Flag Day, the Smithsonian Snapshot brings you some history of a very famous flag. In the summer of 1813, Mary Pickersgill was contracted to sew a 30 x 42–foot garrison flag for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. That flag later became known as the Star-Spangled Banner, the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what later became the national anthem. The flag remained the private property of the commander of Fort McHenry, Lieutenant Colonel Armistead’s widow, Louisa Armistead, his daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton and his grandson, New York stockbroker Eben Appleton, for 90 years.

In 1912, Appleton donated the flag to the Smithsonian with the intention to “present the flag to an institution where it could conveniently be seen by the public and where it would be well cared for.” Continue reading

Downtown, Entertainment, Interviews, Music, Special Events, The Features, The Mall, We Love Arts

NMAI’s Indian Summer Showcase Not Just for Natives

Photo courtesy of
‘Bill Miller and Derek Miller (no relation) perform at the 2010 Indian Summer Showcase at NMAI’
courtesy of ‘bhrome’

Tomorrow afternoon, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free outdoor concert to kick off their yearly Indian Summer Showcase. This year, the Indian Country/Country Indian concert will feature Victoria Blackie (Navajo), Rebecca Miller (Six Nations, Canada), and Becky Hobbs (Cherokee). The concert will take place at 5 pm outside on the Welcome Plaza in front of the museum’s main entrance.

I was fortunate enough to squeeze some time from Victoria and Becky to talk about their music, their heritage, and what inspires them in their artistry.

First, there’s Victoria Blackie. Last year’s winner of the Debut Artist of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, she also performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her voice has been described as powerful with lots of soul, hearkening back to the days of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and other female greats of the past. And don’t let her small stature fool you (she’s 5’1”); her voice is strong enough to pull you in and versatile enough to appeal to a wide range of country enthusiasts.

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History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Parachute Wedding Dress

The parachute wedding dress (120mm ektachrome); photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution

This week, in honor of the 67th anniversary of the D-Day landings AND the onset of wedding season, the Smithsonian Snapshot brings you an interesting artifact that ties both World War II and weddings that is currently not on display. This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during the Pacific campaign.

In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.

Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.

Downtown, Entertainment, Special Events, We Love Arts

Celebrate Hawai’i at NMAI

Photo courtesy of
’530919_Shoshone_Indians_Ft_Washakie_Wyoming_Indian_Reservation_and_
The_National_Museum_of_the_American_Indian’

courtesy of ‘whonew’

Kicking off last night at the National Museum of the American Indian is a special exhibit about our 50th state, Hawai’i. The exhibition, “This IS Hawai’i” is a collaboration between NMAI and Transformer, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit visual arts organization. Together, they present a multisite exhibition featuring new and experimental works of art that explore what it means to be Hawaiian in the 21st century. The artwork includes sculpture, action figures, drawings, an interactive website and a fictional work titled “Post-Historic Museum of the Possible Aboriginal Hawaiian.” The work of Maika’i Tubbs will be presented at Transformer, opening day Saturday, May 21, and the work of Solomon Enos and Carl F. K. Pao will be presented at the NMAI’s Sealaska Gallery, with artist Puni Kukahiko’s outdoor sculptures presented at both sites. The exhibition is presented in tandem with the museum’s annual Hawai’i Festival, which is this weekend.

There are other events planned around this exhibit through Memorial Day weekend, including the museum’s popular Dinner and a Movie, live performances, a fellowship dance, and interactive discussions. All of the events are free at the museum.

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History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: Joe Louis’ Boxing Gloves

Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

For this week’s Smithsonian Snapshot, we take a look at the sport of boxing. Worn in his first historic bout with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936, Joe Louis’ boxing gloves represent a very special chapter in American sports and social history.

While the 1936 match was a heartbreaking loss for Louis, the two boxers met again in 1938 in Yankee Stadium. After that match, Louis was declared the victor in what is considered one of the greatest sporting moments of the 20th century. The historic win cemented Louis’ place in the country’s collective memory, seen as a symbolic contest of American ideals versus those of the Nazis. By easily defeating Schmeling in the first round, Louis became a national hero.

This object is one of more than 1,000 artifacts, works of art and specimens that are on view at Smithsonian Affiliates across the country, and one of 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is on public display at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh through October 2011 in the exhibition “America’s Best Weekly: A Century of the Pittsburgh Courier.”

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution

This week’s snapshot of an artifact not on display but contained within the archives of the Smithsonian Institution is that of a W. Atlee Burpee & Company Seed catalog. This seed catalog is from the W. Atlee Burpee & Co., which was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by Washington Atlee Burpee, an 18-year-old with a passion for plants and animals—and a mother willing to lend him $1,000 of “seed money” to start his business.

The seed trade catalogs document the history of the seed and agricultural business in the United States; they also provide a history of botany and plant research such as the introduction of plant varieties into the country. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ trade catalog collection includes about 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating from 1830 to the present.

History, The Daily Feed

Smithsonian Snapshot of the Week: Space Tea

Space Tea, courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian has started a new project, giving us (and you!) a weekly peek at an object in the Institution’s vast collection (137 million items!) that is not on current display in any of their museums. This week’s artifact comes as a celebration of yesterday’s announcement of their acquisition of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center April 12, 1981, at 7 a.m. EST to begin the first shuttle mission, STS-1. The primary mission objectives were to accomplish a safe ascent into orbit, check out all the systems on the space shuttle and return to Earth for a safe landing. The first flight of the reusable spacecraft successfully met all of these objectives.

This powdered tea was returned from the first Space Shuttle mission food kit. Astronauts would inject water through the port from a dispenser in the galley, shake the container to dissolve the tea crystals and squeeze the accordion-shaped container to drink the liquid. The container is compact and suited to weightlessness. The tea is typical of Shuttle-era menu choices, but the packaging has changed since the early missions, first to covered cups and then to foil pouches with straws.

History, News, Special Events, Technology, The Daily Feed

Discovery Coming to Udvar-Hazy

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In case you missed it, NASA announced today – the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program and the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight by Russian Yuri Gagarin – that the space shuttle Discovery will make its final home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center as part of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum collection. The 27 year-old orbiter is the longest-serving shuttle of the retiring space fleet and has flown every type of mission during its career.

It will take a place of honor that is currently occupied by the Enterprise as the original ‘test’ orbiter relocates to its new home at the Intrepid Museum in New York City. The Enterprise has been in place since the opening of the center in 2003.

Discovery flew a total of 39 missions, from satellite deliveries to the Hubble, DoD projects to the Russian space station Mir. It retired after returning to Earth on March 9. The venerable orbiter has spent a total of 365 days in space and  flown a number of special missions, including the 100th shuttle mission in 2000 and was the first shuttle to fly under an African-American commander.

It will be several months before Discovery is delivered to Udvar-Hazy. “An acquisition of this importance happens rarely in the life of a museum,” said Air and Space curator Dr. Valerie Neal. “It is an honor and privilege to welcome Discovery into the national collection, where it will be displayed, preserved, and cared for forever.”