1917: A Year in the Collections

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany, entering the First World War in order that the world would “be made safe for democracy.” The fight for woman's suffrage continued with protests and arrests at the White House as well as increased public sympathy. The Russian Revolutions overthrew Tsarist autocracy and ultimately led to the formation of the Soviet Union. Construction of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art began.

1918: A Year in the Collections

1918 was a difficult and transitional year with the world deep in World War I and a deadly flu pandemic at home. Armistice came in November, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," and the horrors of the "war to end all wars" began to abate. A new creative spirit flourished as modernism swept into art and design. For more stories about this time, including home front efforts to rally support with music, art from soldier artists, related exhibitions, and more, visit our World War I Centennial pages.

1927: A Year in the Collections

May 20–21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo, non-stop transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first electronic TV image, physicist Heisenberg developed the Uncertainty Principle, and the Harlem Globetrotters took to the road for the first time. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the largest river flood in American history. Anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed despite public outcry, Joseph Stalin consolidated power, and the US Food, Drug and Insecticide Administration was formed. There was no doubt that Clara Bow was the “It” Girl, and the film The Jazz Singer wowed with synchronized sound.

1928: A Year in the Collections

Turn back the clock to the Jazz Age and explore objects and images from collections across the Smithsonian.

1937: A Year in the Collections

The year that Amelia Earheart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world was a tumultuous one. The Hindenburg airship went down in flames in New Jersey. Pablo Picasso completed his tragic masterpiece Guernica in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with Ernest Hemingway reporting from Spain. 1937 also saw the publication of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and plenty of hot jazz. The Federal Art Project WPA programs supported murals, photography, and theater during a time of high employment, documenting rural and urban life in America. 

1947: A Year in the Collections

Jackie Robinson made history on April 15, 1947, when he broke baseball’s color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. While winning Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant, Robinson faced close scrutiny. As he later recalled, "I had to fight hard against loneliness, abuse, and the knowledge that any mistake I made would be magnified because I was the only black man out there." On October 14, 1947, Charles "Chuck" Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. The rocket-engine powered Bell X-1, piloted by Yeager, reached a speed of 1,127 kilometers (700 miles) per hour, Mach 1.06, at an altitude of 13,000 meters (43,000 feet).

1948: A Year in the Colletions

Babe Ruth made a final visit to Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, in observance of the ballpark’s twenty-fifth anniversary. To the astonishment of pollsters and pundits alike, Harry Truman defeated Republican challenger John E. Dewey to win the presidency.

1957: A Year In The Collections

In 1957, the post-World War II baby boom peaked. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Arkansas to uphold the court-ordered integration of public schools, and the Little Rock Nine bravely integrated Little Rock’s Central High School on September 25, 1957. In October, the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, Sputnik I. It was followed in November by the spacecraft Sputnik 2, which carried Laika, the first animal to orbit the Earth. In December, the first U.S. satellite launch effort failed spectacularly when its Vanguard rocket exploded during liftoff. In reaction, American interest in space-related toys and science education soared.

It was a banner year for music. Elvis bought Graceland in Memphis, and he made his third and final appearance on "Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town Show," where he was seen only from the waist up. Folk singer Pete Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress in March for refusing to name personal and political associations before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Lennon and McCartney met for the first time, and great jazz, such as Miles Davis' model jazz, contintued to develop.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, one of the first record labels to document “world music,” released an astounding number of recordings in 1957, including children’s songs, poetry, ambient sound, stories, experimental music, and landmark recordings like anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s Music of the Ituri Forest. These influential sounds helped fuel the American folk music revival (including Woody Guthrie, Seeger, and Lead Belly) and the protest music explosion of the '60s.

1967: A Year in the Collections

1967 was a landmark year bridging early ’60s pop sensibility with an emerging hippie culture. The "Summer of Love" brought young people and wannabes to San Francisco with their shared interest in Eastern religions, communal living, and immersive light shows. It was a banner year for music with Jimi Hendrix performing at the first Monterey Pop Festival, The Doors releasing their first album, and Aretha Franklin releasing the enduring hit “Respect.” To see more art of the ’60s music scene, go to Smithsonian Insider’s Snapshot featuring posters from the "Summer of Love" in the Smithsonian collections.

1967 was the first year of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Coming together on the National Mall from all over the U.S., 58 traditional craftspeople demonstrated their artistry and 32 musical and dance groups performed at the open-air event. Mountain banjo-pickers and ballad singers, Chinese lion dancers, Indian sand painters, basket and rug weavers, New Orleans jazz bands, and a Bohemian hammer dulcimer band from Texas combined with a host of participants from rural and urban areas of the country.

The summer of 1967 was also known as the "Long Hot Summer," witnessing racial unrest in American cities such as Detroit, Newark, and Cincinnati. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” brought awareness to the volatile subject of the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

1968: A Year in the Collections

1968 was a tumultuous, pivotal year marked by political and cultural change. In January, the largest offensive in the Vietnam War was launched by the North Vietnamese, catching the U.S.-led forces unaware. It was a turning point that saw more Americans withdraw their support for the war—and brought more intense anti-war protests.

On April 4, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupted in Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, and many other cities. On April 11, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act. In May, the Beatles announced the creation of Apple Records; later in the year they released the White Album.

In an effort to gain economic justice for poor people in the U.S., the Poor People’s Campaign was launched, including a march and an extended occupation, called Resurrection City, that began in May near the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. In June, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

On December 24, Apollo 8 entered the moon’s orbit. It was the first time humans saw the far side of the moon and the entirety of Earth, ending a chaotic year on a hopeful note.

1977: A Year in the Collections

Released in April 1977, the Apple II started the boom in personal computer sales. President Jimmy Carter warned of the need to conserve energy. Americans gathered around their televisions for the miniseries Rootsa dramatic portrayal of slavery, which was watched by more than 100 million people. The space probe Voyager sent "Sounds of Earth" into space with an eclectic 90-minute musical program including Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode" and Mozart’s "Magic Flute." The Disco era took off with the release of the film Saturday Night Fever. Star Wars: A New Hope became a pop phenomenon while kids took to the streets with their new skateboards.

1978: A Year in the Collections

Disco was still going strong after the release of Saturday Night Fever in 1977. The blockbuster exhibition, Treasures of Tutankhamun, continued to tour the country. In September, President Jimmy Carter invited Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where dual peace accords were negotiated. In October, Pope John Paul II was inaugurated as Pope.

A Day at the Beach

More than a simple border between land and sea, our coastal areas and beaches form a special ecosystem teaming with life. They are also a subject of human contemplation and activity as reflected in our collections and archives. 

African American Music

Describing the African-American influence on American music in all of its glory an d variety is an intimidating—if not impossible—task. African American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them. People of African descent were among the earliest non-indigenous settlers of what would become the United States, and the rich African musical heritage that they carried with them was part of the foundation of a new American musical culture that mixed African traditions with those of Europe and the Americas. Their work songs, dance tunes, and religious music—and the syncopated, swung, remixed, rocked, and rapped music of their descendants—would become the lingua franca of American music, eventually influencing Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The music of African Americans is one of the most poetic and inescapable examples of the importance of the African American experience to the cultural heritage of all Americans, regardless of race or origin.

See full article by Steven Lewis on how African American music is a vital part of America's musical heritage.

Explore a selection of the Smithsonian's wide range of collections preserving the material history of African American musical history.  

African American WWI Military Service

Smithsonian collections document the patriotic service of African Americans throughout our Nation's history, from the American Revolution up to today. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the exhibition "Double Victory: The African American Military Experience" provides visitors a valuable overview. You can read the story from the American History Museum of a member of the storied 92nd Division "Buffalo Soldiers" who survived the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the ultimate battle of the War, which claimed 26,000 American lives.


Aircraft of the National Air and Space Museum.

All That's Old Is News Again

In 1978, Time magazine donated approximately 800 works of original cover art to the National Portrait Gallery. Since this initial gift, Time has continued to donate cover art, growing the Portrait Gallery's Time Collection to over 2,000 pieces. Time's collection of cover art—featuring portraits of newsworthy, influential individuals—helps tell the stories of the men and women who have built America.

Here you can explore select Time covers and other news and journalism-related collection items from across the Smithsonian.

American Art Pottery

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” —William Morris

American Face Vessels

This distinctive type of ceramic face vessel first appeared in the American South in the mid-1800s. Jugs such as these are attributed to a small number of black slaves working as potters in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. None of these skilled potters have been identified by name and their inspiration for making face vessels is unknown. Scholars speculate that the vessels may have had religious or burial significance, or that they reflect the complex responses of people attempting to live and maintain their personal identities under harsh conditions.

American Women Artists

This is a small sampling of the representation of women in the vast visual arts collections at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian works to tell the stories of women within our museums and beyond our walls, critically examining the past and highlighting the art and artists who may have been overlooked historically. American women photographers have also made their mark.

American Women Photographers

Women working as photographic documentarians and artists continue to be creative forces in our contemporary culture. Explore works related  to American women photographers in the collections.

American Women Writers—and Readers

Discover women writers who have made a mark on American culture. Learn about Phillis Wheatly, who in 1773 was the first African American to have a book published. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), brought widespread attention to the issue of slavery. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) helped launch the environmental movement, while Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) helped launch a new wave of feminism.

Literary giant Zora Neale Hurston captured the rich voices and mythos of the African American oral storytelling tradition. Sandra Cisneros is regarded as a key Latina voice in American literature. Louise Erdrich, whose many works explore the psychology and world of Native Americans is considered a major voice in the American Indian renaissance. Women continue to expand literary forms and reveal issues of identity in the private and public spheres, adding to the rich tapestry of American identity and touching on our shared humanity.

Anacostia Community Museum 50th Anniversary

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum commemorates 50 years of service (1967–2017) to communities in the Washington, D.C., area with a yearlong celebration “Your Community. Your Story." The museum renews its mission to convene conversations about community life in a contemporary society, with timely topics like politics, economic livelihood, urban ecology, religion, immigration, and cultural and spiritual fulfillment. Through exhibitions and programming, it continues to inspire civic engagement, promote mutual understanding, and strengthen community bonds. The celebration begins with an Open House on September 15, 2017, and follows with activities throughout the coming year.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians believed death marked the beginning of a journey to eternal life. Learn more at Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt at the National Museum of Natural History, and explore related collections from across the Smithsonian.

Artful Cats

Enjoy a selection of cat-themed art from across the Smithsonian. Not a cat person? Check out Dog: Museum’s Best Friend.

Artists' Books

If you enjoy this sampling of artists' books from around the world, Smithsonian Libraries introduction to artists' books  will help you delve into this dynamic art form. Visit the special Libraries' research collection search for detailed information on this collection.

Asian American Artists

Shimomura Crossing the Delaware

Celebrate! Where Asia Meets America

Contemporary American artists of Asian heritage bring a combined legacy to their work, and varieties of Asian thought and spiritual practice have had a profound and lasting influence on a surprising number of Western artists. Influence has been a two-way street between contemporary American art practice and Asian cultures, past and present.

Asian Pacific American Heritage in the Collections

Celebrate! Where Asia Meets America

Asian Pacific Americans have been central to the American story. The Smithsonian's Asia Pacific American Center is a migratory museum that shares Asian Pacific American history, art, and culture through innovative museum experiences online and throughout the U.S.

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is home to portraits of distinguished Asian Pacific Americans among them statesman Norman Mineta, civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, architects George Nakashima and Maya Lin, best-selling author Julie Otsuka, actor and social media activist George Takei, Japanese film star Sessue Hayakawa, movie star Anna May Wong, and experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu. Artists of Asian Pacific American descent and their art are featured throughout our museums.

Here you can explore additional collection items related to Asian Pacific American heritage.

Autumn Views

Whenever autumn arrives, whether in a blaze of brilliant leaves or with subtle changes in the life cycles of flora and fauna, the season holds a special beauty. Natural-science illustrations combine art and science in the close observation of nature, and artwork from around the world and across time can capture the mood, color, and light of the fall season.

Awards and Insignia

Awards, medals, pins, and accessories from the Museum's collections.

Basketball: Get Ready for the Big Dance

Duke Blue Devils ballIn celebration of the big dance, a curator at the National Museum of American History, chooses top NCAA picks among basketball history.

Need more basketball? Learn about 1970s basketball and Ray Werner, wheelchair basketball pioneer.

Enjoy these related finds from around the Smithsonian.

Be My Valentine

No matter how you choose to express your affection, find inspiration in our collections. From vintage valentines to love songs, our collections have heart.


Each of the collection object groups can include a narrative (e.g., the curator can provide content to put the objects in context).  

There are many examples across the institution, here is an example from American History:


Beer in the Smithsonian Collections

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is collecting, documenting and preserving the history of beer in the United States. Check out food and drink history initiatives happening around the museum. There you can find blogs by our brewing historian Theresa McCulla and recorded panel discussions,. Listen to a podcast episode about American homebrewing.

Bells of Ancient China and Beyond

bronze bells

Celebrate! Where Asia Meets America

Resound: Bells of Ancient China is on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery as part of the reopening of the Freer|Sackler on October 14, 2017.

Thousands of years ago, Chinese musicians worked with foundry technicians to cast matched sets of bronze bells of different sizes to produce a range of tones. They developed oval-shaped bells that, depending on where they were struck, produced two distinct pitches with an intentional interval between them. Resound investigates this advancement with displays of early instruments, including a graduated set of matched bells discovered together in a Chinese tomb, videos of ancient bells being played, and chances for visitors to compose their own music on virtual bronze bells.

Here you will find additional bells in the collections of the Freer|Sackler.

Best Dressed

Dresses from the collections. Who wore it best?


From the 1880s to the 1910s, Americans took to the wheel, sparking a nationwide bicycle craze. In the era before automobiles, bicycles were a means of affordable personal mobility. Americans awheel went to new places and felt differently about themselves. Learn more about bicycles and their impact on American culture at the National Museum of American History.

Bob Dylan: Musician and Poet

From folk troubadour channeling the spirit of Woody Guthrie to rock icon and Nobel Prize–winning poet, Bob Dylan has been an influential American voice practiced in the American art of reinvention. Widely recognized as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Dylan continued to grow as a musician and artist exploring and adding to the American songbook. Dylan participated in early 1960s recordings of folk and protest music for Broadside magazine under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, reissued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. In the recordings, Dylan can be heard crediting co-founder of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival and Folkways champion Ralph Rinzler for the idea for a version of "Roll On, John." The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections contains digitized photographic contact sheets from Dylan's controversial foray into electrified rock and roll music at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Buddhism in Asian Art


Celebrate! Where Asia Meets America 

Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia is on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery through November 29, 2020.

Drawing on the Freer|Sackler’s collections from across Asia, the exhibition expands the understanding of Buddhism in Asian art through both beautiful objects and immersive spaces. Visitors can step into a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, travel the Buddhist world with an eighth-century Korean monk, visit a Sri Lankan stupa, meet teachers and guardians, and discover multiple Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Encountering the Buddha illuminates the ways in which art and place embody and express the teachings of Buddhism.

Explore the Buddha in art contained in the Freer|Sackler's online collections below, or view all collection images related to Buddhism at the Smithsonian.


Fun Facts About Bugs

  • Houseflies find sugar with their feet, which are 10 million times more sensitive than human tongues.
  • Ticks can grow from the size of a grain of rice to the size of a marble.
  • Approximately 2,000 silkworm cocoons are needed to produce one pound of silk.
  • While gathering food, a bee may fly up to 60 miles in one day.
  • Ants can lift and carry more than fifty times their own weight.
  • Mexican Jumping Beans, sometimes sold commercially, actually have a caterpillar of a bean moth inside.
  • It takes about one hundred Monarch Butterflies to weigh an ounce.
  • When the droppings of millions of cattle started ruining the land in Australia, dung beetles were imported to reduce the problem.
  • Wasps feeding on fermenting juice have been known to get "drunk' and pass out.
  • The queen of a certain termite species can lay 40,000 eggs per day.
  • Honeybees have to make about ten million trips to collect enough nectar for production of one pound of honey.
  • Insects have been present for about 350 million years, and humans for only 130,000 years.
  • Beetles account for one quarter of all known species of plants and animals. There are more kinds of beetles than all plants.
  • Blow flies are the first kind of insect attracted to an animal carcass following death.
  • The term "honeymoon" comes from the Middle Ages, when a newly married couple was provided with enough honey wine to last for the first month of their married life.
  • To survive the cold of winter months, many insects replace their body water with a chemical called glycerol, which acts as an "antifreeze" against the temperatures.
  • There are nearly as many species of ants (8,800) as there are species of birds (9,000) in the world.
  • The male silk moth is estimated to "smell" chemicals of female silk moths in the air at the ratio of a few hundred molecules among 25 quintillion (25,000,000,000,000,000,000) molecules in a cubic centimeter of air.
  • True flies have only one pair of wings, and sometimes, none at all. A hind pair of "wings" is reduced to balancing organs called halteres.
  • There are about 91,000 different kinds (species) of insects in the United States. In the world, some 1.5 million different kinds (species) have been named.
  • Vladimir Nabokov, a famous Russian author, collected butterflies and actually named as a new subspecies the Kamer Blue Butterfly from the pine barrens of the Northeast United States.
  • A particular Hawk Moth caterpillar from Brazil, when alarmed, raises its head and inflates its thorax, causing it to look like the head of a snake.
  • About one-third of all insect species are carnivorous, and most hunt for their food rather than eating decaying meat or dung.
  • The oldest known fossil of an insect dates back 400 million years and is a springtail.

Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, 
Information Sheet Number 177

Capital City

Explore the nation's capital city as viewed through the collections.

Cats of Asia and Ancient Egypt

seated catCelebrate! Where Asia Meets America

Cat coffins and representations of the cat-headed goddess Bastet are among the extraordinary objects that reveal felines’ critical role in ancient Egyptian religious, social, and political life.

The Asian continent is home to more species of cat than any other. Explore Asian cats at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and as pictured in our collections from across the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is home to cat mummies as part of our anthropology collections. And not to be left out, domestic cats are featured at our art museums along with their canine companions

Charles Bird King's Indian Portraits

Thomas McKenney, United States superintendent of Indian trade in Georgetown, then port of entry for the District of Columbia, conceived the idea of developing a government collection of portraits of prominent Indians who visited Washington. McKenney engaged the services of Charles Bird King (1785-1862), a well known Washington portraitist, who had studied under the great Benjamin West and others, to paint this series of portraits. King painted from life Indian leaders of at least twenty tribes. These portraits were later handsomely reproduced as hand colored lithographs in Thomas McKenney and James Hall’s three-volume classic, History of the Indian Tribes of North America, published in 1837.

McKenney and Hall’s endeavor was an artistic and technological achievement. The first edition, begun in February 1837, was the culmination of eight years of effort. The last volume of this edition appeared in January 1844, some fifteen years after the project began. (Text adapted from the Introduction by John Ewers to The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King, by Herman Viola, co-published by Smithsonian Press and Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.)

Charles Bird King’s Indian Portraits were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1858 when the National Institute was formally disbanded and its collections dispersed. Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian, placed the portraits in the Art Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian Building. Also on display in this gallery was the collection of American Indian portraits and scenes by New York artist John Mix Stanley. This combined collection of 291 paintings was considered the largest and most valuable one of its kind. On the afternoon of January 24, 1865 fire consumed the entire gallery (fig.5). Fireproof walls and floors saved the rest of the building from complete destruction but the loss was tragic. A few of the King paintings were carried out of the building during the first few minutes of the fire, however, the rest could not be saved. The original oil portraits by King which served as models for the twenty McKenney & Hall lithographs chosen for this exhibit were among those destroyed in the fire of 1865.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom Stamp

Each year Washingtonians eagerly await the "peak bloom date" of the cherry blossom trees that line the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.

Even if you aren't in Washington, D.C., for the annual celebration of spring, you can browse our cherry blossom related collections and listen to a Cherry Blossom Playlist from Smithsonian Folkways. These blooms don't fade.

Celebrate more of Asia at the Smithsonian with artifacts from the Freer|Sackler and more.


For National Chocolate Day on October 28, learn about chocolate bars in the Second World War and discover chocolate-related items in the collections.

Chuck Berry

Collection items related to rock and roll pioneer Charles E. "Chuck" Berry (October 18, 1926–March 18, 2017). You can see Chuck Berry's red Cadillac and electric guitar nicknamed "Maybellene" in Musical Crossroads at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Civilian Application Satellites

Explore satellites used for communications, monitoring the weather, and exploring the Earth.

Clocks and Watches

How have clocks and watches intertwined with our sense of time? When did they come to play central roles in our lives? To answer these questions, On Time at the National Museum of American history explores the changing ways Americans have measured, used, and thought about time during the past 300 years. Time and Navigation at the National Air and Space Museum explores the surprising connection between time and place—if you want to know where you are, you need an accurate clock. And the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is home to timepieces featuring a parade of styles.

Here you will find clocks and watches from across the Smithsonian that are often as beautiful as they are useful.

Consider the Chair

A common item with uncommon potential for redesign and reinvention.

Contemporary Jewelry

Each of the collection object groups can include a narrative (e.g., the curator can provide content to put the objects in context).  

There are many examples across the institution, here is an example from American History:


Country and Western and Bluegrass

We're a little bit country. Explore country music genres reflected in the Smithsonian collections. 


Highlights from the Gallery's remarkable collection of daguerreotypes, the earliest practical form of photography.

Dog: Museum’s Best Friend

These canines come in all shapes and sizes, and from all over the globe. Plus, they’re house-trained.

Don't Forget Your Jacket

As the season turns cooler, we stay cozy with clothing that expresses who we are, what we do, and where we come from. Some amazing people have left their jackets at the Smithsonian.

Doughnut vs. Donut

No matter how you spell the word, the doughnut is a sweet part of American food history. You can learn more about American food history through the Smithsonian Food History Project at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.

Under Dr. King’s leadership, nonviolent protest became the defining feature of the modern civil rights movement in America. King first demonstrated the efficacy of passive resistance in 1955–56 while helping to lead the prolonged bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that succeeded in dismantling bus segregation laws. King’s words were as powerful as his deeds, and his moving and eloquent addresses, which gave hope to millions, continue to inspire people throughout the world.

City of Hope: Resurrection City and the 1968 Poor People's Campaign commemorates the 50th anniversary of King’s daring vision to end poverty in the United States. With newly discovered photographs and videos, the exhibition encourages visitors to explore this important chapter in U.S. history.

Explore related items in the collections and learn five little known facts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Dr. Sally K. Ride: First American Woman in Space

Sally K. Ride (May 26, 1951–July 23, 2012) became the first American woman in space in 1983. She was one of six women selected to enter the astronaut core in 1978. While all six women flew on space shuttle missions, Ride was the first selected to go into space. As a mission specialist on the seventh space shuttle mission, she operated a variety of orbiter systems and experiment payloads. She participated in the launch of two commercial communications satellites and also operated the remote manipulator system arm to maneuver, release and retrieve a free-flying satellite.

Ride presented her in-flight suit to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in a ceremony shortly after the STS-7 mission. It can be seen on display in the National Air and Space Museum's Moving Beyond Earth exhibition.

Ride felt responsible for paving the way for women in space. Her performance and skill, alongside her four male crewmates, made her a symbol of equality.

Duke Ellington

Born in Washington, D.C., Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington rose to fame at Harlem's Cotton Club in the late 1920s. His career as a musician, composer, and bandleader spanned more than 50 years. Among his many compositions are hundreds of short pieces and more ambitious extended works, including operas, ballets, musicals, concert pieces (such as "Black, Brown and Beige"), and the "Sacred Concerts." He was decorated with numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (presented by Pres. Nixon, 1969). Smithsonian Jazz at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History explores the American experience through the transformative power of jazz. Browse addtional information related to Duke Ellington from across the Smithsonian and in the Archives Center.

Early Cars: Fact Sheet for Children

Who made the first cars?

Beginning in the 1770s, many people tried to make cars that would run on steam. Some early steam cars worked well, and some did not. Some were fire pumpers that moved by themselves, and others were small locomotives with road wheels. Beginning in the 1880s, inventors tried very hard to make cars that would run well enough to use every day. These experimental cars ran on steam, gasoline, or electricity. By the 1890s, Europeans were buying and driving cars made by Benz, Daimler, Panhard, and others, and Americans were buying and driving cars made by Duryea, Haynes, Winton, and others. By 1905 gasoline cars were more popular than steam or electric cars because they were easier to use and could travel further without adding fuel. By 1910 gasoline cars became larger and more powerful, and some had folding tops to keep drivers and passengers out of the rain.

How did the first cars work?

A steam car burned fuel that heated water in a boiler. This process made steam that expanded and pushed pistons, which turned a crankshaft. An electric car had a battery that powered a small electric motor, which turned a drive shaft. A gasoline car ignited fuel that caused a small explosion inside each cylinder. This explosion pushed the piston and turned a crankshaft connected to the wheels by a chain or drive shaft.

Who drove the first cars?

In 1900 wealthy people bought cars for pleasure, comfort, and status. Many doctors bought small, affordable cars because they were more dependable than horses and easier to keep ready. Rural Americans liked cars because they could cover long distances without depending on trains. They carried produce to market, went to stores and movies in town, and even used their cars to plow fields. Families in towns and cities liked cars because they were handy for errands, going to the train station, visiting relatives, going to church, and going on drives in the country. A family’s house with a car in the driveway has been a common sight since about 1910. Young people liked cars because they could go to movies, restaurants, and other fun places instead of staying at home with their parents.

Why do so many people use cars?

Cars are fast, comfortable, nice looking, and fun to drive. They can go almost anywhere, and they are always ready for use. In many ways, driving is easier than walking, biking, or riding in a train, bus, or airplane. But owning a car is a big responsibility. It takes a lot of money to buy one and keep it running, and drivers must be trained, licensed, and always alert to avoid mistakes and accidents. It takes a lot of space to park cars, and too many cars cause congestion on roads and in parking lots. Some car owners have returned to walking, biking, or riding a train or bus when it’s more practical or convenient. For most Americans, cars are a favorite way to travel, but there will always be a need for other types of transportation.

What was different about the Ford Model T?

Model T
Ford Model T
Built near the end of the Model-T era, this Model-T roadster came off the assembly line in 1926. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

The Ford Model T, made between 1908 and 1927, cost less than other cars, but it was sturdy and practical. It ran well on dirt roads and fields because it could twist as it rolled over bumps. The Model T looked like an expensive car but actually was very simply equipped. From 1915 to 1925, it only came in black because black paint dried faster than other colors, making it possible to build and sell more Model Ts. For all of these reasons, more Model Ts were sold than any other type of car at the time—a total of just over 15 million. Farmers, factory workers, school teachers, and many other Americans changed from horses or trains to cars when they bought Model Ts.

Why do most cars today run on gasoline?

The gasoline engine has been reliable, practical, and fairly efficient since about 1900. It is easier to control than a steam engine and less likely to burn or explode. A gasoline car can go much further on a tank of gasoline than an electric car can go between battery charges. Gasoline engines have been improved by the use of computers, fuel injectors, and other devices. But growing concern about chemicals that gasoline engines release into the air (i.e., pollution) have led to new interest in clean, electric cars and cars that run on natural gas, a vapor that is different from gasoline.

How many cars are in the Smithsonian?

The Smithsonian Automobile Collection in the Division of Work and Industry at the National Musuem of American History contains around 80 full-size automobiles. The automobile collection attempts to include significant automotive milestones as cars changed from horseless carriages to an intrinsic part of American life. The Smithsonian has been collecting cars since 1899, and almost all of them have been given by people or businesses.

Where can I see more early cars in person and on the Web?

Some of the Smithsonian’s cars are on loan to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse, New York, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in York Springs, Pennsylvania. Major car museums not connected with the Smithsonian include the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, the Imperial Palace Collection in Las Vegas, Nevada and Biloxi, Mississippi, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana, and the Owl’s Head Museum in Owl’s Head, Maine.

Where else can I find out about cars on the Web?

A Brief History of The First 100 Years of the Automobile Industry in the United States: www.theautochannel.com/mania/industry.orig/history


Prepared by the Division of the History of Technology,
Transportation Collections, National Museum of American History,
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services
TRA40 2/2000, revised 4/2001

Earth Day

Learn about Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) and how environmental disasters of his day inspired the creation of Earth Day in 1970. On December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts captured a now-iconic image of Earth, sometimes called the “blue marble.” Our National Air and Space Museum explains how it became an inspiration and symbol for continuing Earth Day celebrations

What inspires you? Take a look at posters, buttons, stamps, and other environmental objects from our collections.

Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) left an enduring mark on the history of photography in his 20-volume life's work, The North American Indian. Between 1900 and 1930, Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” To this end, Curtis often staged his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romanticized vision of the people he studied.

In Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson, art photographers Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga’a) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagáana) challenge this photographic legacy in their work. These artists’ works emphasize that American Indians, like the platinum print itself, have not vanished but instead remain indelible.

Entertaining Women: American Women on Stage and Screen

A small sample of American women singers, dancers, comedians, and actors reflected in Smithsonian collections.

Excelsior! Super Superheroes

Like mythological Greek gods of old, superheroes captivate the imaginations of people of all ages. Superman’s 1938 debut kicked off the golden age of comic books, and superheroes have used their breathtaking powers to fight evildoers ever since. More superheroes have emerged throughout the decades, thrilling comic readers with their exploits, and their massive success in making the leap to movie screens around the world makes this a new golden age for these larger-than-life characters.

Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber, December 28, 1922–November 12, 2018) was one of the creators of the modern superhero template. His gift for storytelling, with multi-dimensional heroes and villains, thrilled audiences around the world. His work on early comics featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and The Avengers helped lead Marvel to success. Lee used his Marvel platform to speak out against bigotry and racism by proclaiming the availability of the hero's journey for everyone. Lee and Jack Kirby famously created the first black superhero in mainstream American comics; the Black Panther made his first comic book appearance in 1966. Lee continued to reinvent himself and create modern global superheroes while delighting fans in movie cameos as a cultural icon in his own right.

Explore items in our collections related to superheroes, including comic books, original comic art, movie and television costumes and props, and memorabilia.

Explore America: Hawai'i

Enjoy a playlist from Musics of Hawaiʻi: Anthology of Hawaiian Music on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and discover five things you probably don't know about the ‛ukulele. Learn about Smithsonian research efforts in Hawaiʻi that range from the sea to the stars. 

In Many Voices, One Nation, note how Hawai‛i went from being a nation to an American state when American business leaders overthrew Queen Liliuokalani. Despite Native Hawaiian protests, the United States annexed Hawai‛i as a territory in 1898. Hawai‛i became the 50th state on August 21, 1959, after a long and difficult path to statehood.

Explore America: Louisiana

Discover Louisiana in the collections: From Audubon's bird illustrations to ancient Indigenous artifacts to objects related to Mardi Gras, Smithsonian collections illustrate the natural diversity of the state as well as its history and distinctive style of music, food, fashion, and celebration. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings features Louisiana's many musical genres: Cajun, zydeco, Louisiana blues, New Orleans jazz and brass bands, plus music for Mardi Gras.

Explore America: Maryland

The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the Smithsonian's collections. It was made in Baltimore, Maryland, in July–August 1813 by flagmaker Mary Pickersgill. Baltimore is also the birthplace of Babe Ruth, the "Sultan of Swat," who got his start as a minor league Oriole. Maryland is the birthplace of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Born a slave on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Tubman escaped slavery and led others to freedom as a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. Douglass was born near Easton, Maryland. In the years following his escape from bondage in 1838, Douglass emerged as a powerful and persuasive spokesman for the cause of abolition.

Today, Maryland is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, researching the causes and consequences of rapid change in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal ecosystems around the world.

Explore America: Texas

Discover Texas in the collections.

Eyewitness to Space

In March 1962, Administrator of NASA James Webb suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the Moon. The resulting program dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

Fabulous Footwear

Home to possibly the world's most famous pair of shoes, the Ruby Slippers, the Smithsonian has more than a few fabulous pairs in the collections.

Family of the Sun

The words below, by NASM's Melvin Zisfein and Robert W. Wolfe, are sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell"

The Family of the Sun.
Its planets number eight,
Plus other rocky, icy worlds
That we appreciate.

Mercury is hot.
and Mercury is small.
Mercury has no atmosphere;
It's just a rocky ball.

(Repeat refrain...
The Family of the Sun.)

Venus has thick clouds
That hide what is below.
The air is foul, the ground is hot.
It rotates very "slow."

(Repeat refrain)

We love the Earth, our home.
Its oceans and its trees.
We eat its food. We breathe its air.
So no pollution, please.

(Repeat refrain)

Mars is very red.
It's also dry and cold.
Some day you might visit Mars
If you are really bold.

(Repeat refrain)

Great Jupiter is big.
We've studied it a lot.
We found that it has many moons
and a big red spot.

(Repeat refrain)

Saturn has great rings.
We wondered what they were.
Now we know they're rocks and ice
which we saw as a blur.

With atmosphers that swirl
& wispy white clouds too
Uranus and Neptune
are so cold that you'd turn blue.

(Repeat refrain)

Pluto's small and cold
It has an icy face.
We call it a dwarf planet now,
But it's still quite a place.

The family of the Sun.
Its planets number eight.
Plus other rocky, icy worlds.
Now our journey's done.

Famous Horses

The National Museum of Natural History often receives requests for information on famous horses which are believed to be part of the Smithsonian's research collection or on display in the exhibit areas. Several of the horses listed are part of the Museum's collection; The rest are displayed or stored at other institutions. The following facts have been compiled from the files of the Division of Mammals of the Museum's Department of Systematic Biology, Vertebrate Zoology Section, personal correspondence, and accession and catalogue records.

oil painting of Lexington

Accession No. 121040
Catalogue No. 16020 (entry in cat., Nov. 7, 1878)

The famous race horse, Lexington, was born in 1850, stood 15 hands (63 inches), 3 inches high, and on April 2, 1855, set a record at the Metaire Course in New Orleans by running 4 miles in 7 minutes, 19 3/4 seconds. Perhaps his greatest fame was as sire to numerous brood mares and successful racers, one of whom was Preakness, namesake of the classic race at Pimlico.

Lexington died July 1, 1875, at Woodburn Farm, Woodford County, Kentucky and in keeping with his status, was buried in a coffin in front of the stables housing his harem. Finally, in 1878, his owner, A.J. Alexander, through the auspices of Dr. J.M. Toner, donated the horse's bones to the United States National Museum. Professor N.A. Ward of Rochester, New York, was asked by the Museum to supervise the disinterment and prepare the skeleton for exhibit. Currently, the articulated skeleton can be seen on display in at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky.


Winchester and Sheridan

Accession No. 69413
Catalogue No. 32870

General Philip H. Sheridan's horse during most of the Civil War, Winchester was mounted and presented to the Smithsonian in 1923 by the Military Service Institution, Governor's Island, New York. The horse's name, originally "Rienzi," was changed to Winchester after carrying Sheridan on his famous ride from Winchester, Virginia to Cedar Creek, Virginia in time to rally his troops and turn almost-certain defeat into victory.


John J. Pershing


Accession No. 164991
Catalogue No. 270900

Kidron became famous as General of the Armies John J. ("Black Jack") Pershing's horse. Historic photographs show Pershing riding Kidron triumphantly through the Victory Arch in New York City at the end of World War I.

The horse died October 10, 1942, in Front Royal, Virginia. Hoping to have the horse mounted, the War Department, Front Royal Quartermaster Depot, Remount of Front Royal, Virginia, turned over the remains to the U.S. National Museum. However, because of Kidron's age at the time of his death and because the body had decomposed rapidly due to hot weather, taxidermists were unable to mount the skin.

On March 31, 1943, the Office of the Registrar at the Smithsonian accepted as a transfer from the War Department, the skin and skull of Kidron. These remains are now part of the research collection of the Division of Mammals in the National Museum of Natural History.

Accession No. 52188
Catalogue No. 172454

Also known as the "Pride of the Desert," this Arabian horse beat 19 Morgan horses winning the Justin Morgan Cup in Vermont on June 1907.

He was brown, without white markings, stood 14.2 hands high and weighed 960 pounds. According to his owner, Homer Davenport, the horse was acquired on August 8, 1900, from Nazim Pasha, the governor of Syria and Aleppo, who had received it from the supreme sheik of the Anezeh. The origin of the stallion was cited as Mesopotamia (Anezeh Arabians). He was supposedly bred by the Gomussa tribe of the Sebba Anezeh. His mother was the last of the distinguished Maneghi Sbeyel mares, tracing back more than 500 years, and his sire was a stallion of the family of Sueyman Sebba of the southern desert.

After Haleb's death on November 10, 1909, at the age of 8, his skull and partial skeleton, prepared by Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York, were donated to the Smithsonian by Davenport. The Division of Mammals assigned a catalogue number to the specimen on December 9, 1910, and placed it in the research collection.

Old Henry Clay
Accession No. 10191
Catalogue No. 21876

Old Henry Clay, often called "America's National Thoroughbred Trotting Horse" or "Father of American Trotting Horses," was foaled on Long Island in 1837 and purchased by Colonel William W. Wadsworth of Seneso, Livingston County, New York. When his days as a famous trotting horse were over, he was used for breeding and finally died at Lodi, New York in the spring of 1867. In life the horse stood 15 1/4 hands high. (61 inches)

Some 14 years after his burial, Old Henry Clay's bones were dug up and his skeleton mounted by Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York. The skeleton was donated to the United States National Museum on April 22, 1881, by the Honorable Erastus Corning and Henry C. Jewett through the auspices of Randolph Huntington.

Only the mandible, a part of the skull, remains as a remnant of Old Henry Clay. It is kept in the research collection at the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland.

AMNH No. 204061
Chubb No. 61

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City (which is not part of the Smithsonian Institution) is home for the skeleton of famous racehorse Sysonby. From 1904, as a two-year old, to 1906, his series of victories assured him a place in racehorse history.

The horse died June 1906 at the age of 4 years and 4 months, and his remains were donated to the Museum in July of that year by James R. Keene. Funds for the skeletal preparation were also provided. In 1908, S. Harmsted Chubb, anatomist and research associate at the Museum, mounted the skeleton to demonstrate a phase in the stride of a running horse. The Chubb series of skeletons are famous as studies in anatomy and locomotion.

Currently, Sysonby is in the storage area of the Museum with other horses of the Chubb Collection.


The skeleton of Hanover, another famous racehorse, is at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.


Traveller, famous as General Robert E. Lee's horse, died in 1872, two years after Lee. Initially the horse was buried, but in response to numerous requests, it was disinterred and the skeleton mounted and displayed at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. After more than 60 years on exhibit, on May 8, 1971, the horse was reburied outside the Lee Chapel at the University close to the Lee family crypt.


Defeat rather than victory brought fame to Comanche. He was known as the sole survivor of General George Custer's command at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876.

Of mustang lineage, he was born about 1862, captured in a wild horse roundup, gelded and sold to the U.S. Army Cavalry on April 3, 1868, for $90. The bay, 925 pounds, standing 15 hands high with a small white star on his forehead, became the favorite mount for Captain Myles Keogh of the 7th Cavalry. He participated in frequent actions of the Regiment and sustained some 12 wounds as a result of these skirmishes.

Two days after the Custer defeat, a burial party investigating the site found the severely wounded horse and transported him by steamer to Fort Lincoln, 950 miles away, where he spent the next year recuperating. Comanche remained here with the 7th Cavalry, never again to be ridden and under orders excusing him from all duties. Most of the time he freely roamed the Post and flower gardens. Only at formal regimental functions was he led, draped in black, stirrups and boots reversed, at the head of the Regiment.

When the Cavalry was ordered to Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1888, Comanche, aging but still in good health, accompanied them and continued to receive full honors as a symbol of the tragedy at Little Bighorn. Finally, on November 7, 1891, about 29 years old, Comanche died of colic.

The officers of the 7th Cavalry, wanting to preserve the horse, asked Lewis Lindsay Dyche of the University of Kansas to mount the remains: skin and major bones. For a fee of $400 and on condition that he be permitted to show the horse in the Chicago Exposition of 1893, Dyche completed the appropriate taxidermy. Although there is no record of the fee being paid, the horse was donated to the university's Museum and property rights are vested in the University through L.L. Dyche.

Comanche is currently on display in a humidity controlled glass case at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Dyche Hall, Lawrence, Kansas.

Little Sorrel

Little Sorrel, or "Fancy" as he was known, became famous as the mount of General Stonewall JacksonCaptured at Harpers Ferry by the Confederates, he was chosen initially for Mrs. Jackson but eventually commandeered by the General when his own horse, Big Sorrel, proved unreliable in battle.

In 1863, at Chancellorsville, Jackson, while riding the horse, was wounded by his own men and died a few days later. At first Little Sorrel was pastured at Mrs. Jackson's home in North Carolina, later sent as a mascot to the Virginia Military Institute where the General had taught cadets he led to battle, and then in response to requests from many Southern States, was shown at fairs and exhibitions.

In 1885, ancient and infirm at the age of 35, he was retired to the Confederate Soldier's Home. The following year he died when the hoist used to lift him to his feet slipped; he fell breaking his back. Little Sorrel was stuffed and housed in a museum at the Veterans Home until 1949 when he was finally returned to V.M.I. Refurbished twice since 1886, Little Sorrel is presently on display at the Virginia Military Institute's Museum in Lexington, Virginia.


Neither a racehorse nor the mount of a famous general, Trigger, owned by movie star cowboy Roy Rogers, brought pleasure and excitement to countless motion picture patrons.

The golden palomino stallion appeared in all of Rogers' 90 feature films and 101 television shows. According to his owner, "He had great rein and could spin on a dime." Inheriting the best characteristics of his sire, a thoroughbred racehorse, and his dam, a golden palomino, Trigger had stamina, beauty, intelligence, and a remarkably gentle disposition.

On July 3, 1965, at the Rogers ranch in Hidden Valley, California, Trigger, 33, succumbed to old age. Reluctant to "put him in the ground," Rogers had the horse mounted in a rearing position by Bishoff's Taxidermy of California.

Trigger, in full regalia - bridle, saddle, and martingale - is presently on exhibit at the Roy Rogers - Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, the repository for the Rogers memorabilia.

Information on Sysonby, courtesy of the Department of Mammalogy,
American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.

Information on Comanche, courtesy
of the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Lawrence, Kansas.

Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Vertebrate Zoology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, Smithsonian Institution

revised  1/11

First Ladies

The National Portrait Gallery is well-known for our collection of presidential portraits, but we also have a comprehensive collection of the nation's first ladies.

Float Like A Butterfly

This robe and headgear, worn by Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) while training at the 5th Street Gym in Miami, Florida, exemplifies his unwavering dedication to being The Greatest. Ali?s conversion to Islam occurred during his training time in Miami in the 1960s. It was during this period that he shed his birth name, Cassius Clay, and accepted a new name, Muhammad Ali. This terry cloth robe, with Ali?s name sewn on the back in large black letters, both reveals and conceals the fighter?s identity and prowess.

Foucault Pendulum


The Foucault pendulum which was displayed for many years in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History was removed in late 1998 to make room for the Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project and there are no current plans to reinstall it.

The Foucault Pendulum is named for the French physicist Jean Foucault (pronounced "Foo-koh), who first used it in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. It was the first satisfactory demonstration of the earth's rotation using laboratory apparatus rather than astronomical observations.

If you start a Foucault Pendulum swinging in one direction, after a few hours you will notice that it is swinging in a quite different direction. How does this happen?

Imagine you are in a museum located at the north pole and that the museum has a Foucault Pendulum suspended from the ceiling at a point exactly over the pole. When you set the pendulum swinging it will continue to swing in the same direction unless it is pushed or pulled in some other direction. (This is due to a basic law of nature called Newton's First Law.) The earth, on the other hand, will rotate once every 24 hours underneath the pendulum. Thus if you stood watching the pendulum, after a quarter of an hour or so, you would be likely to notice that the line of the pendulum's swing has changed to a different direction. This would be especially clear if one marked the position of the line of swing in the morning and had the pendulum knocking down pegs arranged in a ring at the center.

However, if you are standing on the floor of a building housing a pendulum (which is connected to the earth), you will naturally think that the floor is stable and the pendulum is moving. This is because we naturally assume that the base on which we stand is stable unless our eyes or sense of balance tells us otherwise. If our base moves slowly or accelerates smoothly, we are easily fooled into thinking that another object we see is moving. You have probably experienced this in a car, a train, or an airplane, that begins to move very slowly and smoothly, and for a split second you think that a nearby car, train, or even a building, seems to move. Thus, after thinking for a while about the total situation you might be willing to agree that what you are seeing is a real demonstration that the earth is rotating under the pendulum and that the line of swing of the pendulum just appears to rotate.

At the north pole the apparent rotation would be a full circle of 360 degrees each 24-hour day, or about 15 degrees per hour. This case is fairly simple, because here the earth and the pendulum are not exerting much influence on each other. As you move off the north pole down to a more southerly point like Washington, for example, the earth not only rotates under the pendulum, but it carries Washington, the building, and the pendulum, in a great circle about its axis. That is, the motion of the earth is now mixed in a complicated way with the motion of the pendulum. As you can prove if you watch the pendulum for a while, the effect of this is to slow down the apparent rotation of the swing. Instead of seeming to rotate 15 degrees (about 1/24 of a full circle) in one hour, it only changes by about 9 degrees (about 1/40 of a full circle). The further south you go, the slower the apparent rotation gets, and at the equator there is no rotation at all. Below the equator the apparent rotation begins again, but in the opposite direction.

Any pendulum consists of a cable or wire or string and a bob. For a pendulum to easily demonstrate the Foucault effect, it should have as long a cable as possible (this one is 52 feet) and a heavy symmetrical bob (this one is hollow brass, weighing about 240 pounds). Like all pendulums this one loses a bit of energy with each swing due to friction from air currents and vibrations in the cable and other factors. Thus, left to itself the pendulum would swing in shorter and shorter arcs until after a few hours it will decrease almost to zero. To keep the Foucault Pendulum going, one must replace the energy lost with each swing. This can be done by giving the pendulum a little "kick" with each swing.

To do this, two iron collars are attached to the cable near the top. There is a doughnut-shaped electromagnet built into the ceiling, and the iron collar swings back and forth inside the hole of the doughnut. When the pendulum cable reaches a particular point in its swing, it is detected by an electronic device and the magnet is turned on at just the right time to give the collar (and thus the cable and the bob) a little "kick" in the exact direction of its natural swing. This restores the energy lost during the swing and keeps the pendulum from stopping. It has no effect on the direction of the swing, and thus does not interfere with the demonstration that the earth is rotating.

Some people have built their own pendulums; you don't need a ceiling 50 feet high. If you are interested in building your own, you might like to go to your library and read two articles from Scientific American magazine: pages 115-124 of the June 1958 issue and pages 136-139 of the February 1964 issue. You may also wish to contact the California Academy of Science in San Francisco, California. A complete description of the Foucault pendulum, how it works, and how to construct one can be found on the Academy's Web site. Go to: http://www.calacademy.org/products/pendulum/

Smithsonian Information
202.633.1000 (voice)
e-mail: info@si.edu

Frida Kahlo

The Smithsonian's Archives of American Art brings photographs and letters together in Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

From Coffee Cup to Coffee Table

Smithsonian has your National Coffee Day fix. We even have a variety of lids, so you can take it to go.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887–March 6, 1986) remains one of the most revolutionary painters of the 20th century. She created an influential and still beloved modernism, abstracting familiar shapes like flowers, mountains, and buildings. Her associations with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and others, have left us a rich record of the power of her presence, along with her paintings.

In 1966, Life magazine photographer John Loengard was asked to document the daily life of Georgia O'Keeffe at her Ghost Ranch home near Abiquiu, New Mexico, where she produced much of her iconic work. The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery holds 48 photos from the series in their collections.

Gertrude Käsebier Sioux Portraits

Many of ground-breaking photographer Gertrude Käsebier's portrait subjects were working and traveling with William "Buffalo Bill" Cody’s Wild West shows, at the turn of the 20th century. She photographed her Sioux subjects for over 10 years, both on the reservation and in her 5th Avenue studio in New York City.

Grant and Lee

The rivalry between generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee is one of the most memorable in American military history. Lee was a polished and seemingly invincible Confederate commander who encountered Grant, a rough-hewn upstart, in the Virginia campaigns of 1864 and 1865. Grant and Lee both stand alone as genuine world historical individuals in their impact on America, but they are also are the product of their relationship to each other.

Ground Squirrels

For Squirrel Appeciation Day on January 21, we have a few surprising facts for you. Chipmunks along with groundhogs (also known as woodchucks), marmots, and prairie dogs are all considered ground dwelling squirrels. Take a moment to appreciate our squirrel-related collections images of these adorable mammals.

Guidance, Navigation, and Control

The functions of guidance, navigation, and control are vital to all forms of air and space flight. The Space History collections in this area attempt to reflect that significance and illustrate the breadth of the topic.


A selection of guitars and other guitar-related items in the collections.

Happy New Year

Whether you welcome in the new year with a night out or quiet reflection, the holiday has always symbolized a new start. You can listen to Auld Lang Syne being sung or played on a music box, or hear the sounds of New Year’s Eve in Times Square in the 1960s.

Hats Off to These Pieces

You don’t have to worry about a bad hair day with these pieces from our collections. Who wore it best?

Hip-Hop and Rap Across the Smithsonian

Coming summer 2019, the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap will be the first collection to include music from every major label and dozens of independent label recordings. The anthology explores important issues and themes in hip-hop history, and it provides a unique window into the many ways hip-hop has created new traditions and furthered musical and cultural traditions of the African diaspora.

Explore hip-hop and rap-related collections from across the Smithsonian.

Holiday Cards

The Smithsonian's Archives of American Art has hundreds of handmade holiday cards which reveal how artists imagined the holidays through whimsical watercolors, quirky collages, and cheerful prints and drawings. Greeting cards can also be found in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the National Museum of American History collections. Enjoy this sampling of cards from around the Smithsonian, then visit the National Postal Museum for the art of Christmas stamps, or check out these holiday shopping bags.

Horses in Art, Science, History, and Culture

Throughout history and around the world, humans have had a close relationship with horses, as helpers and workers, pets, and for sport. The National Museum of the American Indian’s online exhibition A Song For the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures tracks how the introduction of horses changed Native life forever. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, scientists work to protect and breed the endangered Mongolian Przewalski's horse, the last of the truly wild horses. 

Independence Day: July 4th

Happy birthday America! From the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, to today's picnics, parades, and fireworks, a patriotic tour through the collections. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. 

–Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

Indigenous Voices

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century written notes on spoken Native American languages are valuable in the effort to sustain and revive those languages after a long history of suppression and loss. Many of the notes have been transcribed by Smithsonian online volunteers through our Transcription Center and are now available for researchers. There is also movement to revive sign language that allowed tribes to communicate across hundreds of spoken languages. To sample recorded music from a wide range of Native American cultures past and present, visit Smithsonian Folkways records.

The Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices program collaborates with contemporary Native communities to unearth cultural knowledge embedded in the texts held in museum collections. 

Irish American History and Heritage

Explore collection items related to Ireland and Irish American history and heritage. Enjoy the music of Ireland with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

James Brown: Godfather of Soul

James Brown set the standard for dynamic live performance in American music. Inspired by preachers in the black church, Brown started out singing in gospel quartets. As the "Godfather of Soul," he transmuted gospel into secular music centered in the emotional conduit of the soul singer. As "the hardest working man in show business," Brown turned ballads into virtuosic theatrical turns—falling hard on his knees, busting into splits and half spins, popping the mike to the floor and back, each move ratcheting up the song’s emotional intensity. As "Soul Brother No. 1," Brown acted as a cultural leader, writing hit songs calling for racial pride. As a progenitor of funk music, Brown with his band created a stripped-down, rhythmically driven aesthetic that has influenced world music from reggae to Afrobeat. Much of popular music since the 1960s comes through James Brown’s moves and grooves. Hip-hop is unimaginable without him.