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1936 Chinese American Baby Carrier

Maker:
Lee Ng Shee
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
cotton (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 60 cm x 304 cm; 23 5/8 in x 119 11/16 in
Object Name:
baby carrier
Place made:
United States
Date made:
1936
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.03
Catalog number:
1992.0620.03
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
In America, Mrs. Lee made this decorated carrier for her granddaughter, Jade. Chinese women carried children on their back in carriers such as this. The child sat in the carrier with their feet around the mother’s waist; the four strips of fabric at each corner knotted at the parents’ front.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

1900 - 1910 Chinese American Woman's Blouse

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
wool (overall material)
metal (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 75 cm x 90 cm; 29 1/2 in x 35 7/16 in
Object Name:
blouse, woman's
Object Type:
Main Dress
Blouse
Woman
Place made:
China
Date made:
ca 1905
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.08
Catalog number:
1992.0620.08
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
In America, Mrs. Lee wore this tunic-length satin blouse with side buttons made from 1890 Hong Kong coins. The generously cut blouse or sam, often reaching the calf, was worn over trousers.
Mrs. Lee wore traditional Chinese clothes when she occasionally accompanied her children to the local movie houses. According to her daughter Grace, since she did not understand English she made up her own storyline to accompany the films’ images.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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1925 - 1930 Chinese American Woman's Skirt

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
silk (skirt, lower material)
cotton (waistband material)
Measurements:
overall: 88 cm x 56 cm; 34 5/8 in x 22 1/16 in
Object Name:
skirt
Object Type:
Skirt
Woman
Main Dress
Place made:
China
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
Date made:
ca 1930
Subject:
Weddings
Chinese American
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Family & Social Life
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
2000.0274.02
Accession number:
2000.0274
Catalog number:
2000.0274.02
Description (Brief):
Mrs. Lee ordered this skirt from China to wear on formal occasions, such as weddings. The waistband, of a different fabric, was covered by a blouse.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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1906 Chinese Immigrant’s Lacquer Trunk

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
leather (overall material)
metal (overall material)
Measurements:
trunk closed: 34 cm x 46 cm x 70 cm; 13 3/8 in x 18 1/8 in x 27 9/16 in
Object Name:
trunk
Place made:
China
Arrived at:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1906
Subject:
Cultures & Communities
Family & Social Life
Transportation
Chinese American
Immigration
Immigrants
Chinese American
Event:
The Emergence of Modern America
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.01
Catalog number:
1992.0620.01
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
In 1906 Ng Shee Lee packed her clothes and belongings in this trunk and left China for America. It was a difficult trip. She slept next to the noisy engine room; arriving tired and sick in San Francisco she was met by the devastating 1906 earthquake. Ng Shee then made her way alone by train across Canada to New York where she rejoined her husband, Lee B. Lok.
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Exhibition:
On the Water
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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1919 Chinese American Baby Bonnet

Maker:
Lee Ng Shee
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
wool (overall material)
fur (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 30 cm x 42 cm; 11 13/16 in x 16 17/32 in
Object Name:
bonnet, baby
Object Type:
Bonnet
Boy
Headwear
Place made:
United States
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
1919
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.07
Catalog number:
1992.0620.07
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
Mrs. Lee made this "dog head" bonnet for her only son, Peter. Chinese mothers traditionally dressed their one year old children in such bonnets to protect them from evil spirits. According to lore, if evil forces met the child they would pass by, thinking it were an animal, and of no value. Fur lines the bonnet's "dog's ears" and the padded wool of the hat lined Peter's head.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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1915 - 1925 Chinese American Girl's Trousers

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
fabric (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 45 cm x 67 cm; 17 23/32 in x 26 3/8 in
Object Name:
trousers, girl's
Object Type:
Trousers
Girl
Main Dress
Place made:
unknown
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1920
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Photograph, Lee family portrait
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?view=&dsort=&date.slider=&q=AC0555-0000003.tif
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.10
Catalog number:
1992.0620.10
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
One of the Lee daughters wore this casual Chinese-style outfit on special occasions, for none of the children wore Chinese dress for every day wear. The trouser band or fu tau , translated as the “head of the trousers,” was folded over and secured with a belt or cord and covered by the vest.
Lee B. Lok, his wife Ng Shee, and their seven children lived above the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. store in New York City's Chinatown. Though the children wore Western clothes and participated in the local Scout troop and other clubs, their parents required them to attend Chinese school each day, from 4-7 PM.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

1915 - 1925 Chinese American Girl's Vest

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
fabric (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 41 cm x 57 cm; 16 5/32 in x 22 7/16 in
Object Name:
vest, girl's
Object Type:
Vest
Girl
Main Dress
Place made:
unknown
Date made:
ca 1920
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Photograph, Lee family portrait
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?view=&dsort=&date.slider=&q=AC0555-0000003.tif
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.11
Catalog number:
1992.0620.11
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
One of the Lee daughters wore this casual Chinese-style outfit on special occasions, for none of the children wore Chinese dress for every day wear. The trouser band or fu tau , translated as the “head of the trousers,” was folded over and secured with a belt or cord and covered by the vest.
Lee B. Lok, his wife Ng Shee, and their seven children lived above the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. store in New York City's Chinatown. Though the children wore Western clothes and participated in the local Scout troop and other clubs, their parents required them to attend Chinese school each day, from 4-7 PM.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

Circa 1930 Women's Gown (cheong sam)

User:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
satin (overall material)
silk (overall material)
embroidered (overall production method/technique)
Measurements:
overall: 51 cm x 116 cm; 20 3/32 in x 45 21/32 in
Object Name:
dress
Object Type:
Dress
Woman
Main Dress
Place made:
China
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1930
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Photograph, Portrait of Virginia Lee in a cheongsam dress
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?view=&dsort=&date.slider=&q=AC0555-0000006.tif
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.16
Catalog number:
1992.0620.16
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description:
The donor, Virginia Lee, posed in a similar cheong sam for a US World War II poster and for the "Miss China" contest in New York. Also known as a qu pao, the Chinese traditional loose dress shape was modified by Western designers in the 1920's to be more close-fitting to accentuate a woman's figure. The altered dress form became broadly popular in the United States as evening wear in the late 1950's and 1960's.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

1895 - 1905 Chinese American Woman's Skirt

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
satin (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 88 cm x 107 cm; 34 21/32 in x 42 1/8 in
Object Name:
skirt, woman's
Object Type:
Skirt
Woman
Main Dress
Place made:
Zhonghua: Hong Kong, Colony of
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1900
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.20
Accession number:
1992.0620
Catalog number:
1992.0620.20
Description (Brief):
Ng Shee (1874 - ?) had this two paneled skirt as well as trousers made in Hong Kong at the time of her marriage to Mr. Lee B. Lok in China around 1900. After the marriage Ng Shee lived with her mother in law in China until she joined Mr. Lee in New York City in 1906.
The pleated skirt was often worn with a rectangular apron or wei chu’u over a pair of matching trousers.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

1895 - 1905 Chinese American Woman's Trousers

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 49 cm x 100 cm; 19 9/32 in x 39 3/8 in
Object Name:
trousers, woman's
Object Type:
Trousers
Woman
Main Dress
Place made:
Zhonghua: Hong Kong, Colony of
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1900
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.21
Catalog number:
1992.0620.21
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
Ng Shee (1874 - ?) had this two paneled skirt as well as trousers made in Hong Kong at the time of her marriage to Mr. Lee B. Lok in China around 1900. After the marriage Ng Shee lived with her mother in law in China until she joined Mr. Lee in New York City in 1906.
The pair of matching trousers was often worn under the pleated skirt with a rectangular apron or wei chu’u.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

Additional Online Media:

1895 - 1896 Chinese American Man's Gown

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
silk (overall material)
satin (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 72 cm x 131 cm; 28 3/8 in x 51 9/16 in
Object Name:
gown, man's
Object Type:
Man
Main Dress
Gown
Place made:
China
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1896
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Event:
Li Hongzhang visit to New York
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.24
Catalog number:
1992.0620.24
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
Lee B. Lok (1869-1942) immigrated to San Francisco from Guangdong Province, China in 1881 and soon after moved to New York City's Chinatown where he worked in the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. store.
Lee B. Lok ordered this gown from China to wear at the 1896 arrival ceremony in New York of Li Hongzhang, emissary of the Empress Dowager of China. Soon after Lee came to America he abandoned Chinese clothes for daily use and cut his queue. However on special occasions Lee wore clothing that identified him as Chinese. This Manchu style gown splits at the back, front, and both sides to allow for easy movement on horseback – a reflection of the Manchu people’s equestrian background.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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1895 - 1900 Chinese American Man's Slippers

Maker:
unknown
Physical Description:
satin (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 9 1/4 in x 3 in x 2 3/4 in; 23.495 cm x 7.62 cm x 6.985 cm
Object Name:
slippers, pair of, man's
Object Type:
Man
Slippers
Footwear
Place made:
China
Worn:
United States: New York, Manhattan, Chinatown
Date made:
ca 1896
Subject:
Chinese American
Family & Social Life
Immigration
Immigrants
Cultures & Communities
Clothing & Accessories
Chinese American
Publication title:
Lee Chinese -American Family Papers, ca. 1915-1970
Photograph, Mr. Lee B. Lok at his store
Publication author:
Mead, Virginia Lee
Mead, Virginia Lee
Publication URL:
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?q=set_name:%22Lee+Chinese-American+Family+Papers%2C+ca.+1915-1970%22
http://collections.si.edu/search/results.jsp?view=&dsort=&date.slider=&q=AC0555-0000001.tif
Credit Line:
Gift of James Edgar Mead and Virginia Lee Mead
ID Number:
1992.0620.27.a-b
Catalog number:
1992.0620.27.a-b
1992.0620.27a-b
Accession number:
1992.0620
Description (Brief):
Mr. Lee only wore these slippers in his home or with his traditional Chinese clothes on special occasions. The slipper sole was thick, flat, inelastic, and shorter than the upper sole to give enough spring for walking.
For much of his early life, the Chinese New Year was Lee’s only day of rest from the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. general store and a time when he might wear these slippers.
Location:
Currently not on view
See more items in:
Home and Community Life: Costume
Chinese American
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Visitor Tag(s):

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Throwing ourselves into Yo-Yo Heritage Month

Creator:
National Museum of American History
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Mon, 30 Mar 2015 18:14:42 +0000
Topic:
American History
Description:

April Fool's! It is not Yo-yo Heritage Month, so we unfortunately will not be sharing yo-yo facts all month. But we do have a few for you today!

The origins of toys like yo-yos are said to stretch way back to ancient Greece or China, but it is believed that the yo-yo we know today comes from the Philippines, where "yo-yo" means "come come" in one of the local languages. The popularity of the toy in America began growing in the 1920s, when a Filipino bellhop at a Southern California hotel, Pedro Flores, attracted attention with his yo-yo tricks on his breaks. Seeing an opportunity, Flores began manufacturing the toys, and was soon bought out by entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan, who began a wildly popular marketing campaign for yo-yos.

Man with dark hair in a suit, smiling

Our yo-yo collections span the decades. Here are a few of my favorites:

Red white and blue metal yo-yo with flower design at the center

This "Musical Ka-Yo" was made in the early 1930s by the Caro Manufacturing Company. "Musical" comes from the holes in the side that cause the steel yo-yo to whistle as it travels up and down. "Ka-Yo" comes from the Cayo Company avoiding the term "yo-yo," which had been trademarked by the Duncan toy company.

 

Roy Rodgers in cowboy gear next to horse

Yo-yos and pop culture often go hand-in-hand. This Round Up King yo-yo from the 1950s features cowboy actor Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger. The yo-yo was made by Nebraska's All Western Plastics. The yo-yo's packaging (not pictured) reads: "It's smooth and fast, it's inside walls are slick as glass, no rough wood to catch the string, does all the tricks…it's Roundup King."

 

Hamburger-shaped yo-yo with sesame seed bun

For those with memories of the Happy Meal toy and/or appreciation for anything food shaped: The McDonald's Hamburger Yo-Yo of the 1980s.

 

Wooden yo-yo with dark brown writing

Yo-yos aren't all fun and games. This yo-yo, manufactured by the Hummingbird Toy Company in about 1990-1991, commemorates Operation Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia. For every one bought in the U.S., one was sent to a serviceman overseas.

 

Blue yo-yo with black swirls

Competitors and record-setters take their yo-yos seriously. Trick yo-yos are specially made to perform all the maneuvers you might have tried to master as a kid: "walk the dog," "rock the cradle," "loop the loop." This yo-yo was made by Mega SpinFaktor in 2001, to help yo-yo master Rick Wyatt set a world "sleep" record. "Sleep" is when a yo-yo spins at the end of the line. Wyatt successfully set a new record with this yo-yo in 2001, with 13 minutes and 5 seconds of sleep.

 

Wooden yo-yo with rainbow stripes and a golden Smithsonian logo

Here's a yo-yo that we here at the museum get excited about! This colorful wooden specimen was made by What's Next Manufacturing Inc in 1995 as part of the BC yo-yo line. It bears a golden Smithsonian Institution sunburst logo.

Take a minute to explore our yo-yo collections online. Which one is your favorite?

Julia Falkowski is an intern in the New Media Department of the National Museum of American History. She has also blogged about hearing historic voices on fragile recordings.

Author(s): 
Intern Julia Falkowski
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A fire in the Smithsonian Castle, 150 years ago

Creator:
National Museum of American History
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Tue, 20 Jan 2015 23:13:22 +0000
Topic:
American History
Description:

It was a cold January afternoon 150 years ago this week. Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was working in his office on the second floor of the building commonly known as the "Castle." He was interrupted by a loud crackling sound from above and, looking up, quickly realized that the building was on fire. The blaze was the result of a stove that had been incorrectly installed in the Picture Gallery on the second floor. When it was all over, the damages to the Castle and its collections amounted to what The New York Times called a "national calamity."

Image of Castle with figures in forefront, billowing smoke, flames

But not all was lost, of course. Today, objects and equipment that survived, and artifacts collected as a direct result of the fire, are housed throughout many of the museums here at the Smithsonian, where we still do our best to guard against fire, flood, and even earthquake. The National Museum of American History holds a number of objects that speak to the legacy of that tragic day as well as the resilience of the Institution.

Telegraph, brown

This telegraph sounder was manufactured by Charles T. and John N. Chester of New York City, a firm that began making batteries and telegraphic equipment in 1855. The sounder is thought to have belonged to Joseph Henry as part of his experimental equipment while he served as Secretary of the Smithsonian. As such, it may well have been housed in the Castle building, where Henry both worked and lived, along with his family. Indeed, Henry's pioneering work in electricity and electromagnetism in the 1830s was instrumental in the invention and development of the telegraph, as well as the electric motor and the telephone.

When it came to telegraphy, however, Joseph Henry was not only concerned with scientific theory. He was also a leading force behind the development of modern meteorology, and as Secretary, he created a network of over 600 volunteer weather observers through Central and North America who would send data to the Institution regarding local conditions. Their timely information was transmitted to Henry by—you guessed it—telegraph.

Illustration of Magi kneeling to see Christ child in Mary's lap

This beautiful and detailed engraving, a version of the biblical scene of the adoration of the Magi by Hendrik Goltzius, dates to 1594. It came to the Smithsonian when the Institution purchased a large collection of fine art prints and books in 1849 from George Perkins Marsh, an American congressman, linguist, and diplomat who also served as a member of the Smithsonian's Board of Regents. The engravings, numbering around 1,300 in total, constituted the first collection purchased by the nascent Institution and the first public print collection in the nation's history.

In 1865, the print collection was held in the library, which was housed in the West Wing of the Castle, an area that was fortunately spared from damage by the fire, which was concentrated in the center of the building. Later that year, with the fire in mind, Secretary Henry deposited the Smithsonian's library, along with portions of the Marsh collection, with the Library of Congress. Today, some books and prints from this pioneering Smithsonian collection are still held at the Library of Congress, as well as by the National Museum of American History.

Glass bulbs with pointed end

Just six years before the fire, Joseph R. Priestley, grandson of the chemist Joseph Priestley, donated his famous grandfather's burning lens and condensing air pump to the Smithsonian Institution. Secretary Henry, who was against the idea of the Smithsonian Institution becoming a national museum, nevertheless presented the objects to the Smithsonian Board of Regents as precious scientific relics. He described the lens as, "undoubtedly connected with the history of one of the most important chemical discoveries of the latter part of the last century," referring to its use in the discovery of the gas oxygen. Sadly, as the apparatus room of the Castle went up in flames, so did Priestley's lens and air pump.

Priestley, however, would once again find his place at the Smithsonian in 1883. After hearing of the death of a Priestley descendant, Secretary Spencer Baird (Henry's successor) wrote to the surviving family members inquiring about the potential to donate more Priestley relics. The Smithsonian, he was careful to note, had recently completed the construction of a "thoroughly fireproof building" (today known as the Arts and Industries building) where the new donation could be stored.

Perhaps convinced that these objects wouldn't also meet a fiery fate, the family agreed to the gift. Today, the gift, comprising more than 20 pieces of glassware and scientific instruments, remains an important part of the museum's Chemistry and Electricity collections.

Timothy Winkle is an associate curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. Mallory Warner is a project assistant in the Division of Medicine and Science. The Smithsonian Institution Archives has more about the January 24, 1865, fire on their blog and in historic correspondence.

Author(s): 
Timothy Winkle and Mallory Warner
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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

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Smithsonian Institution Archives
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Published Date:
Tue, 17 Sep 2013 11:00:00 +0000
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Archive
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Hispanic Heritage Month, postcard.


Hispanic Heritage Month, postcard, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Brochures/Postcards: Hispanic Exhibitions/Events at the Smithsonian, c. 1988-1993.


ENCUENTROS performing at the National Museum of American History, postcard, 1999.


ENCUENTROS performing at the National Museum of American History, postcard, 1999, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee, Smithsonian Institution Archives.


Struggle for Justice: A Tribute to Cesar Chavez at the National Museum of American History, flyer, 1993.


Struggle for Justice: A Tribute to Cesar Chavez at the National Museum of American History, flyer, 1993, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Brochures/Postcards: Hispanic Exhibitions/Events at the Smithsonian, c. 1988-1993.


Semillas de Cambio: 500 anos de encuentro e intercamio | Seeds of Change: 500 years of Encounter and Exchange, exhibition brochure, 1991.


Semillas de Cambio: 500 anos de encuentro e intercamio | Seeds of Change: 500 years of Encounter and Exchange, exhibition brochure, 1991, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Brochures/Postcards: Hispanic Exhibitions/Events at the Smithsonian, c. 1988-1993.


Latino Resources at the Smithsonian | Oportunidades para Latinos en el Smithsonian, brochure.


Latino Resources at the Smithsonian | Oportunidades para Latinos en el Smithsonian, brochure, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Latino Resources at the Smithsonian, Smithsonian Institution Archives.


Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week, brochure, 1988.


Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week, brochure, 1988, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Brochures/Postcards: Hispanic Exhibitions/Events at the Smithsonian, c. 1988-1993.


"Woman and child aboard a train" (1946), by Jack Delano, "The Art of Jack Delano," exhibition postcard, 1998.


"Woman and child aboard a train" (1946), by Jack Delano, "The Art of Jack Delano," exhibition postcard, 1998, Accession 02-155, Box 2, Folder - Brochures/Postcards: Hispanic Exhibitions/Events at the Smithsonian, c. 1988-1993.

This week starts the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15) and the Smithsonian is celebrating with a series of vibrant performances, lectures, exhibitions, family activities and tours at various museums around the Institution. September 15th is siginificant because it marks the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Also, Mexico and Chile celebrate their indepdence days on September 16 and 18, respectively.

The Smithsonian Collections Search Center has highlighted some sets of collections at the Smithsonian that document Latino and Mexican histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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