Smithsonian Sparks

Go back to school—and back in time—with these historic objects

August 31, 2022
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Brown and yellow box of Crayola young artist drawing crayons with a handful of crayons next to it

This 1903 Crayola set for "young artists" was one of the earliest produced. It’s from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

We’re going back to school with inspiration from across the Smithsonian’s collections. Check out more supplies to fill up your backpack.

Three metal lunch boxes with designs for the Mickey Mouse Club, disco dancers, and Super Friends heroes

First up: gotta pack a lunch. These lunch boxes from Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History span three decades: a 1963 Mickey Mouse Club lunch box used by original Mouseketeer Lonnie Burr, a 1980 disco fever lunch box, and a 1977 “Super Friends” lunch box.

Apple iBook laptop in blue

The most coveted college school supply of fall 1999? The iBook, Apple’s new line of colorful laptops geared toward the entry-level, consumer and education markets.

The design, which included a built-in handle, was only available in blueberry and tangerine at first. Apple later added indigo, graphite and key lime. This blue model is in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

The iBook offered an unprecedented six hours of battery life (!) and was the first mainstream computer designed and sold with integrated wireless networking, promising be “out of the box and onto the Internet in ten minutes.”

Illustration of the solar system. Below, two men hold pointers toward it and a 3D model, while a group of young people look on. One person looks through a telescope.

This map of the solar system from 1849 may look a little different from what you’re used to. The planets Neptune and Uranus were still called Le Verrier and Hershel, and Pluto hadn’t been discovered (or reclassified) yet.

It’s from “Smith's illustrated astronomy,” which Asa Smith created for the public and schools in the U.S. The book is now digitized and in the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.

Though some things have changed since its publication, the planets are still as far away today as they were then.

Colorful cross-stitch sampler. The alphabet and names of flowers are sewn across the top. Under that is a grid of letters paired with different flowers.

S is for Sewing. As early as the 15th century, needlework samplers served as ways to teach and practice sewing, an important domestic skill. They often doubled as academic instruction, like this 1994 alphabet sampler by artist Ira Blount in the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

Each letter features a flower that starts with that letter, with the full list of names stitched at the top.

After moving to Washington, D.C., following World War II, Blount mastered dozens of artisanal crafts. His love for crafting, learning and community engagement endured over the course of his long career.