Skip to Content

Found 340 Resources

Seed Box, Mandeville & King Co.

Smithsonian Gardens
Wooden seed box for Mandeville & King Company. The box has a hinged lid and has a dark stain with a latch on the exterior. On the front of the box is a lithograph that reads: “Mandeville / 10c and up / Triple tested flower seeds.” On the lid of the interior a lithograph with a diagram on how to display the seeds in the box and the label, “Mandeville & King Co / Superior Flower Seeds, Rochester, N.Y.”

August Plahn Notes, Correspondence and Patents

National Museum of American History
Collection of 282 documents related to Danish inventor August Persson Plahn's work on natural color motion pictures. Among the documents are drawings, diagrams, transparencies, calculations and patent information regarding Plahn's camera, projector and film projects and legal, business and publicity material related to his company, Primo Natural Color Inc. The patents that Plahn received for his work from the U.S. and a host of European countries are among the collection, as is a book of stock certificates for his business.

The Early Color Cinema Equipment Collection [COLL.PHOTOS.000039] includes equipment, media and ephemera related to color motion pictures from the birth of the cinema to the mid twentieth century. This collection is comprised of 5 motion picture cameras, 3 movie projectors, more than 34 pieces of editing and other apparatus, more than 60 pieces of early color film and two notebooks illustrating the Technicolor process.

Reproducing natural color on film had been an industry goal since the earliest days of motion picture production, but it took several decades to perfect a technology for making movies in color. Motion picture directors often toned or hand-tinted monochromatic film in the industry’s early days to add life and emotion to their productions. Though movie producers continued to use toning and tinting, these costly and inefficient processes could never produce the full range of color that movie cameras failed to record. Therefore, innovators increasingly focused on the use of color filters during capture and projection to reproduce color detail.

Danish-American inventor August Plahn built and patented a camera and projector that split motion picture images through three color lenses using 70mm film. When the film, with three images printed across its width, was projected through the same colored filters, movies’ natural color was restored. The collection includes forty five short lengths of processed film and documents related to Plahn’s work as well as one camera, three projector heads and over seventy-five pieces of apparatus used by the engineer.

While Plahn had little success marketing his inventions, the Boston-based Technicolor Corporation effectively marketed their similar technology to become the industry standard. The color cinema collection includes four Technicolor cameras as well as over twenty-five pieces of equipment related to the Technicolor process and a book of photographs illustrating Technicolor film processing in a train car.

The Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the industry’s leading trade group, donated examples of a number of other early color film technologies, including Prizma, Kelley-line screen, Krayn Screen, Naturalcolor, Multicolor and Morgana color processes.

This finding aid is one in a series documenting the PHC’s Early Cinema Collection [COLL.PHOTOS.000018]. The cinema-related objects cover the range of technological innovation and popular appeal that defined the motion picture industry during a period in which it became the premier form of mass communication in American life, roughly 1885-1930. See also finding aids for Early Sound Cinema [COLL.PHOTOS.000040], Early Cinema Equipment [COLL.PHOTOS.000037], Early Cinema Film and Ephemera [COLL.PHOTOS.000038] and the Gatewood Dunston Collection [COLL.PHOTOS.000021].

David White Geologist's or Forester's Compass

National Museum of American History
This is an aluminum compass with brass sights. The raised rim and beveled outer ring are graduated every degree and numbered every 10 degrees in quadrants from north and south. The southeast quadrant of the face has a variation scale that extends 25 degrees one way and 45 degrees the other, that is graduated to degrees, and that reads by folded vernier to 5 minutes. The western half of the face is graduated to degrees, and equipped with a pendulum clinometer pivoted at the center. There are level vials on the SE and SW corners of the plate. The four beveled edges of the plate are graduated, one to inches and tenths, one to inches and eighths, and two as protractors. The back of the plate has a diagram showing the arrangement of township numbering. David White Co. termed it an improved geologist's or forester's compass as designed for the U. S. Forest Service. This example belonged to the University of Missouri at Columbia. New, it cost $45. The "David White Co. Milwaukee, Wis." signature refers to a firm that was established in 1895, and renamed the David White Instrument Co. in 1956. Ref: David White Co., Catalog and Price List, 7th edition (Denver, about 1935), p. 37.

Tracor model 304D Rubidium Frequency Standard

National Museum of American History
Tracor model 304D Rubidium Frequency Standard, Object ID no. 1981.0076.01

This object is a rubidium vapor absorption frequency standard, serial no. 105, with clock movement. The Tracor instruction manual and circuit diagrams are in the curator's file.

Tracor Instruments first put this atomic-absorption clock on the market in 1970. In its physics, electronics, performance and price, it is similar to the first commercial model introduced by Varian Associates a decade earlier (see object ID no. 1980.0511.02, the Varian V-4700A rubidium-vapor frequency standard). It is, however, less than half the size and weight. In the “Atomic Clocks” exhibition, the object was “exploded” and sectioned in order to display the clock components in their functional relationships. The principles upon which it operated are essentially those underlying the ammonia absorption and atomic beam clocks.


If the arrival time of a radio signal can be determined with accurate instruments, such as atomic clocks, aboard a ship or satellite, then the distance from the radio transmitter is easily calculated. The LORAN C navigational system, introduced in 1961, used ground-based radio transmitters. The Global Positioning System, introduced in 1980 and designed to be fully operational by 1987, achieves wider geographic coverage by using satellite-based transmitters.

Brief description of an atomic clock

Electromagnetic waves of very specific and consistent frequencies can induce atoms to fluctuate between two energy states, and by measuring that frequency we can determine the “tick” of an atomic clock. A second in a cesium clock, for example, is defined as 9,192,631,770.0 cycles of the frequency that causes the cesium atom to jump between those states. Different atoms “tick” at different rates – strontium atoms tick about 10,000 times faster than cesium atoms – but all atoms of a given element tick at the same rate, making atomic clocks much more consistent than clocks based on macroscopic objects such as pendulums or quartz crystals.

(Ref. Steven Jefferts, physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology

There are different types of atomic clocks, the principle behind all of them remains the same. The major difference is associated with the element used and the means of detecting when the energy level changes. The various types of atomic clocks include:

•Cesium atomic clocks employ a beam of cesium atoms. The clock separates cesium atoms of different energy levels by magnetic field.

•Hydrogen atomic clocks maintain hydrogen atoms at the required energy level in a container with walls of a special material so that the atoms don't lose their higher energy state too quickly.

•Rubidium atomic clocks, the simplest and most compact of all, use a glass cell of rubidium gas that changes its absorption of light at the optical rubidium frequency when the surrounding microwave frequency is just right.

For additional background information go to:

The Golden Record 2.0 Will Crowdsource A Selfie of Human Culture

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft left our solar system, carrying a “Golden Record”—a gold-plated phonograph record containing analogue images, greetings, and music from Earth. It was meant to be a snapshot of humanity. On the small chance that an alien lifeform encountered Voyager, they could get a sense of who made it.

“This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe,” said Carl Sagan who led the six-member team that created the Golden Record.

No spacecraft has left our solar system since Voyager, but in the next few years, NASA’s New Horizons probe, launched in 2006, will reach Pluto and then pass into the far edges of the solar system and beyond. A new project aims to create a “Golden Record 2.0”. Just like the original record, this new version will represent a sampling of human culture for NASA to transmit to New Horizons just before it soars off into the rest of the universe.

Atlas V Launches the New Horizons Mission to Pluto. (© Ben Cooper/SuperStock/Corbis)

The genesis of the project came from Jon Lomberg, a scientific artist and the designer of the original Golden Record. Over the last year he’s recruited experts in a variety of fields to back the project. To convince NASA of public support, he launched a website and put together a petition, signed by over 10,000 people in 140 countries. When Lomberg presented the idea to NASA earlier this year, the agency was receptive and will be releasing a statement with further details on the project on August 25. In the meantime, he and his colleague Albert Yu-Min Lin, a research scientist at the University of California in San Diego, gave a preview of their plan at Smithsonian’s Future Is Here event in Washington, DC, today.

Jon Lomberg with the Voyager record in 1981. Lomberg, Design Director for Voyager and New Horizons Golden Record project, drew the cover diagram showing extra-terrestrials how to play the record. This diagram has an estimated lifetime of 1000 million years, making it humanity’s most enduring piece of art. (© Galaxy Garden Enterprises LLC 2013)

New Horizons will likely only have a small amount of memory space available for the content, so what should make the cut? Photos of landscapes and animals (including humans), sound bites of great speakers, popular music, or even videos could end up on the digital record. Lin is developing a platform where people will be able to explore and critique the submissions on the site. “We wanted to make this a democratic discussion,” says Lin. “How do we make this not a conversation about cute cats and Justin Beiber?” One can only guess what aliens might make of the Earth’s YouTube video fodder.

What sets this new effort apart from the original is that the content will be crowdsourced. “We thought this time why not let the people of earth speak for themselves,” says Lomberg. “Why not figure out a way to crowd source this message so that people would be able to decide what they wanted to say?” Lomberg has teamed up with Lin, who specializes in crowdsourcing technology, to create a platform where people from all over the world can submit content to be included on the record.

Albert Yu-Min Lin speaks about the potential of crowdsourcing at The Future is Here. (Erin Corneliussen)

NASA hasn’t committed any funding to the project, so Lomberg is charged with coming up with the capital required to put the message together. Lomberg will pursue online fundraising efforts, private funders, and possibly a Kickstarter campaign.

Once the world has put this message together, how do we get it there? New Horizons is already well on its way to Pluto, so it’s not as if we can plug in a thumb drive and upload the message data. Instead, the message will be transmitted in a somewhat old-fashioned way—over the radio. NASA uses a radio wave network called the Deep Space Network involving three satellites that orbit earth to communicate with its spacecrafts and probes out in the field. “It’s much slower than dial-up,” says Lin. Once New Horizons reaches Pluto, it will zip by the drawf planet collecting data, and then transmit all of that data back to Earth, which will take about a year. Once it’s done handing off the data, NASA will stream the data message to be stored on the probe’s computer system.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, currently on its way to Pluto. (© CHARLES W LUZIER/Reuters/Corbis)

This summer, the Golden Record 2.0 hopes to begin accepting submissions. New Horizons will reach Pluto in July 2015, and if all goes well, the message will be secured in the probe's memory by the end of 2016.

Once New Horizons leaves the solar system, the chances that the probe will encounter extraterrestrial life are slim: the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 million light years across, and no one knows exactly how big our universe is. If New Horizons does cross paths with extra terrestrial life, those alien organisms would need to be intelligent in order to comprehend the probe’s message. “Will they ever be found? Probably not,” says Lomberg.

But, perhaps more important than the message’s fate in space is it’s impact here on earth. When the original Golden Record left the solar system with Voyager, “the reception for it was almost uniformly positive. It excited kids. It got a lot of people interested in science,” says Lomberg. At the very least, the message will perhaps challenge us to contemplate our place in the universe. 

For more information on the New Horizons message project, check out their project’s new website.


Move and This Interface Will Adjust Its 3D Form Accordingly

Smithsonian Magazine

In a world where we’re being conditioned to touch screens, a team of MIT researchers is trying to get consumers to, ironically, think different. Imagine a computing system where users located in one location could gesture and these motions would generate various designs, shapes and messages in physical form in a completely different location. It would almost be like reaching into a screen and touching what you see on the other side.

Dubbed inFORM, the interface is comprised of 900 motorized rectangular pegs that can be manipulated using a kinetic-based motion sensor, like Microsoft Kinect. In the demonstration video, you can see how the pegs systematically rise up and take the form of a pair of fabricated hands to play with toys, like a ball, or page through a book. Much like those pinscreen animation office toys, with inFORM, entire physical representations of towns and landscapes can instantly emerge and evolve before your eyes.

“We’re just happy getting people to think about interfacing using their sense of touch in addition to touch screens, which are nothing but pixels and purely visual information,” says Leithinger. “You can now see it can be a lot more than that.”

Credit: Tangible Media Group

Envisioned as a kind of “digital clay,” the PhD students originally developed the technology for practical applications, such as architectural modeling. While 3D printers can produce miniature replicas that take as long 10 hours to fully layer and dry, inFORM’s moldable flatbed can instantly model entire urban layouts and modify them on the fly. Geographers and urban planners could similarly produce maps and terrain models. There are potential uses in the medical field as well. A doctor, for instance, might review a 3D version of a CT scan with a patient. 

The elaborate system is designed so that each peg is connected to a motor controlled by a laptop. But, the inFORM technology isn’t meant to be a consumer product—not yet at least. “What you’re seeing is the early stages of a completely different kind of technology,” says Leithinger. “So the way we put this interface together wouldn’t be cost-effective enough for the mass market, but there are lessons that can be learned to make something based on the idea of 3D interfacing.”

The creators also don’t want anyone to confuse inFORM with a similar nascent technology called telepresence, where a person’s movements can be transmitted remotely to a different location. Even though telepresence robots like the popular prototype Monty can be controlled from afar to pick up objects, they’re limited to limb movements and other attributes of the human form.

Credit: Tangible Media Group

“Our system allows for a lot more improv than these other technologies, like generating an object that interacts with another in real time” says Follmer. “A telepresence robot may be able to pick up a ball, but it’s not as good at using a bucket to pick up a ball.”

As the pair explores the technology’s wide range of potential applications, they’re also aware of the current limitations. For now, the inForm interfacing only works as a one-way system, meaning two people in separate continents won’t be able to use their own 3D surfaces to simultaneously hold hands. It also can’t create complex overhangs where a portion of the formation juts out horizontally (think: the diagram in the game Hangman). For that, you’ll still need a 3D printer.

“It’s possible to make the interactivity touchable and real on both ends and so we’re definitely exploring going in that direction,” says Leithinger  “We’re constantly getting emails from people telling us how the interface can be used to help blind people communicate better or for musicians, stuff even we’ve never thought about.”

A Boston Biotech Company Is Engineering New Smells

Smithsonian Magazine

Ginkgo Bioworks is staffed by hackers. Though they prefer to say they "design organisms," the employees have built a lab, or "foundry," in Boston, where they hack biology. They splice genes, then insert mixtures of genes into vials of yeast, to quickly grow synthetic organisms that serve human needs.

Gingko’s creative director, Christina Agapakis, says they’re essentially in the business of speeding up evolution. "It’s like a rapid prototyping factory," she says.

The biohackers are working on building organisms that capture carbon and others that grow probiotics that help people fight off infections. The company received initial funding from DARPA to develop the latter. But right now, Gingko is creating organisms that emit specific smells. The goal is to mass-produce synthetic scents and flavors that can be used for everything from perfume to artificial sweetener. It's a step to potentially replace rare, expensive, slow-growing or volatile organic compounds. Robertet, a French fragrance company, commissioned Gingko to help synthesize a scent from a specific rose, only grown in Turkey and Bulgaria, that is laboriously picked by hand.

“Fragrance has been a lead because fragrance uses the chemistry of something that started as biological extract,” she says. “So we’re looking at where can biology come back into chemical engineering and make it sustainable and renewable.”

I recently spoke to Agapakis about the company and its mission:

How did Ginkgo get its start?

Ginkgo was founded in 2008 by Tom Knight and four guys(Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton, Austin Ch) who had just finished getting their PhDs at MIT. Tom had a hand in developing ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet, but in the late ‘90s, he decided computers were boring and programming biology was interesting. He wanted to see where engineering and biology could intersect. That was the point of Ginkgo. The founders want to make biology easier to engineer, and then to look at what that means for industry and technology.

Why is it happening now?

When they started in 2008, it was just about the time when the cost of DNA sequences was really rapidly dropping, and because of that people started sequencing everything. The knowledge of how evolution has solved problems has rapidly expanded, and people have sequenced all sorts of genomes and enzymes. It has become a resource or library.

The other side of things is synthesis. You used to have to find the organisms, and now you can synthesize genes from the database. When I was a student, it used to cost $1 per base pair, so a gene cost one to $5,000 dollars. Now it’s gone down to pennies per base. We just put in an order for 100 million base pairs from Twist [a synthetic DNA company], which is enough to write the yeast genome 10 times. It’s becoming much more possible.

Christina Agapakis, creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks (Photo by Thatcher Cook for PopTech)

What exactly do you do in the lab?

It’s like a rapid prototyping factory. We can run many variants of different pathways and see what works in the right combination.

Sometimes our projects start with our customers. They’ll say, “It’s hard for us to make this ingredient,” and we’ll start looking for an organism that will produce something for them. We start from the biochemistry. We have tech engineers who understand the biology of the cells, and all the metabolites that are there, so they understand how the processes are affecting the cells.

Other types of projects look at what biology can do in the chemical space. [Here is where Ginkgo is growing microbes to mimic the smell of that hard-to-grow rose.] For the ingredients that we’re looking at now, or flowers or plants in general, there are several classes of chemicals that can make different cells. There are say 1,000 to 5,000 different enzymes. We’ll say, lets synthesize them and put them in yeast and see what the variants do.

Why do you use yeast as the base material?

Yeast is awesome, because we as humans are really good at fermenting yeast. There’s a lot of technology around yeast’s ability to create flavors and smells, because of beer. What we do is a really cool mix of contemporary science and traditional brewing methods. Our head of fermentation actually owns a brewery—Mystic Brewery in Chelsea [Massachusetts].

The advantage of the foundry is that it can automate sequencing. (Ginkgo Bioworks)

What are you working on now?

There’s a constantly evolving Venn diagram of where biology’s capabilities lie, where the engineering is feasible and where there’s an industry, need and technology. Fragrance has been a lead, but we are also working on technology for carbon capture. We got an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant to look at carbon capture and converting short-chain carbons into more complex things. We’re also working with Ajinomoto, a Japanese food and chemical company, to see if we can find ways to improve their waste stream.

What happens next?

Bioworks 2, an expanded foundry, opens in the spring or early summer next year, and the foundry is constantly iterating. We’re always thinking about organism design and how to run it more efficiently. We’re bringing in new projects, customers and markets, but we’re also working on technology.

Ten years out, we’re looking at the microbiome, microbial communities and how we can engineer microbes. I’m looking forward to a time when we know how microbes work together. We’re also thinking about all the things that smell. Someday we want to have something called "the 100 vials." It would be 100 different smells that are created through nature.

The Smithsonian Celebrates American Invention at This Weekend's Innovation Festival

Smithsonian Magazine

Creative minds working in every corner of the country—in large corporations and humble garages—are inventing the future. In honor of these folks and their inventions, the National Air and Space Museum is hosting an Innovation Festival this weekend. Inventors of a number of new technologies will share how their ideas have evolved into viable products at the two-day event, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

The Smithsonian recently announced a five-year collaboration with the USPTO, during which the federal agency will contribute funding for public programs and exhibitions related to American innovation at the museums. The festival is the inaugural event, and the Smithsonian and the USPTO are jointly organizing a family festival at the American Art Museum this coming spring and a major exhibition on intellectual property at the National Museum of American History in the summer of 2015. is hosting a special website with stories that highlight the innovative spirit at the Smithsonian and beyond.

With the Innovation Festival and future endeavors, the USPTO is looking to offer adults and children a chance to interact with new technologies, in the hope of inspiring future generations of inventors. This weekend, visitors will see various tools and equipment—from augmented reality to skateboards—developed by inventors and innovators within businesses, universities and the government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service will present a speedy test for detecting a plant virus, and a group from the University of South Florida will invite visitors to take its rolling dance chair for a spin; the chair gives those with disabilities a new means of artistic expression. Patent examiners that worked on the projects will be on hand to field questions about the patent process.

Smithsonian experts and others will be giving talks on the hour. David Allison, associate director of the National Museum of American History, and Bruce Kisliuk, deputy commissioner for patent administration at the USPTO, will speak about the collaboration and future programming. Pierre Comizzoli, a research scientist at the National Zoological Park, will discuss efforts to preserve cellular life at room temperature for centuries, and NASA astronaut Don Thomas will talk about how his background as a holder of two patents helped him be innovative in space.

Staff from the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will lead hands-on activities for families to enjoy. With help from the American History Museum's Spark!Lab, for instance, visitors can try their hand at designing a video game controller or a robot. 

"Through this collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, we will create a program that not only celebrates American ingenuity but also reflects the 21st century expectations of our visitors," Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough said in a press release announcing the agreement in September.

This isn't the first time that the Smithsonian and USPTO have teamed up. In 2011, the USPTO helped create educational public programming to accompany "The Great American Hall of Wonders," an exhibition of art, engineering diagrams and patent models at the Smithsonian American Art Museum chronicling the science and technology that drove rapid change in the United States in the 19th century. (Fittingly, the building now housing the museum served as a patent office full of models from 1840 to 1932.) That same year, the museum also hosted "Inventing a Better Mousetrap," which featured 32 patent models that were displayed at the original patent office. The Smithsonian's Ripley Center also staged the USPTO's "The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology That Changed the World" in 2012. 

The Innovation Festival will be held this Saturday, November 1, and Sunday, November 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Air and Space Museum. 

42 Lessons for Tabla [sound recording] / illustrated with examples and recordings of master performer Ustad Keramatullah Kahn

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Compiled and writte by Robert S. Gottlieb.

With a foreword by Ravi Shankar.

Notes in booklet (24 p. : ill.), including instructional texts and diagrams, inserted in original cover.

Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence pertaining to the recording, original cover art designs, production materials, business records, and audiotapes from studio production.

Niedringhaus’ Model of a Pallet Vault Storage System – ca 1953

National Museum of American History
This is a working model associated with U.S. Patent Number 2,709,547 issued to Marion W. Niedringhaus of Ladue, Missouri on May 31, 1955. The patent was for a container for storage and intra-warehouse transportation of household furnishings.

Mr. Niedringhaus noted that substantial costs were incurred by the then current practice of transferring furniture piece by piece between a moving van and a storage warehouse. His concept called for using modular containers (referred to as vaults) based on a pallet base which could be handled by standard forklifts. The standard size of a storage pallet was envisioned to be four by six feet on the base and six to nine feet tall. The design allowed various sizes and styles of furniture items to be stored in as little volume as possible in order to reduce warehousing charges. However, the primary benefit was the reduction in the number of forklift and dolly trips between the loading dock and the storage location in the warehouse. Another benefit was the ability to pack pallets closely and to be able to move one easily to get to others.

Two paperboard sheets preformed to the size and shape of the pallet surrounded the stacked furniture on the ends and sides. Rails on the pallet held the sheets firmly in place, and they overlapped in order to provide fully closed sides. A heavy paper bag fit over the top of the sheets and thus completed a neat, dust-proof enclosure. Mr. Niedringhaus described in detail how his pallet system would be used in a real warehouse environment. Individual components would be stored flat prior to use and could be assembled without use of special tools. He compared the relative advantages and cost savings of utilizing his system for storage relative to traditional methods.

A full description of the pallet vault along with complete diagrams of the patent can be found in the patent document online at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, / At his death in 1966 Mr. Niedringhaus was Chairman of the General Van and Storage Company of St. Louis, Missouri. A 1958 Popular Mechanics Magazine article described that company’s development and use of a pallet vault based upon Mr. Niedringhaus’ design.

The model’s construction is of wood, paper and fabric and is a highly detailed representation of the patent’s concept. The model illustrates a complete pallet vault to include the base, paperboard side panels, and paper top. The top is labelled “Pallet Vault” with U.S. and Canadian patent numbers.

The model includes additional features not described in the patent. A rectangular wooden framework is added atop the pallet base. The frame is slightly smaller than the base so that the side panels can fit snugly around it. It is somewhat shorter than the side panels and has an additional set of side rails approximately halfway up. Wooden slats are arranged on the top and intermediate side rails to support two tiers of furniture. The slats can be set to allow chair seat bottoms to rest on them with the chair legs extending below. The model includes one sofa on the base and five chairs arranged on the upper tiers. The furniture is highly detailed including decorative fabric upholstery.

An-tee-bodies: T-shirts in celebration of the antibody

National Museum of American History

Antibodies are always looking out for us, and this week we're taking a closer look at them. Antibody-based tests, vaccines, and drugs have dramatically influenced American history, culture, and quality of life. Smallpox, polio, and syphilis, once constant threats, are now distant memories for many, and recent antibody-based therapies continue to further the human battle against disease. This is the second post in our series. Read the first on home pregnancy tests.

When did you first learn about your immune system? Maybe you have childhood memories of being vaccinated, hearing about the protection your body was building through antibodies. Perhaps you can recall middle or high school biology diagrams depicting the whole immune system: antigens, T-cells, B-cells, and little Y-shaped drawings of helpful antibodies formed to tag a specific threat to the body.

For scientists throughout the 20th century, studying the immune system not only led to a greater understanding of how our bodies fight foreign invaders, but opened the door to new kinds of treatments that harnessed antibodies for medicine.

Antibodies as cures are nothing new. Since the late 19th century, scientists understood that a protective and curative power from disease existed in the blood of creatures that had been exposed to toxins or illness. They applied this knowledge to create a treatment known as serum therapy. The mechanism was simple: harvest blood serum from animals that had been exposed to a disease and inject it in people suffering from that disease. While researchers didn't fully understand how the cure worked (it essentially transferred antibodies from one creature to another), their work did inspire a hope for the future. Researchers theorized that eventually they would be able to create a "magic bullet" from customized antibodies perfectly suited to attacking foreign invaders.

Three amber-colored bottles that resemble upside down bells with handles. They have yellowed labels on them.

By 1975 the invention of monoclonal antibody (mAb) technology made that dream real. At the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, researchers César Milstein and Georges Köhler developed a technique for creating cells that could pump out streams of identical antibodies, custom-selected to attach to specific targets. This long-awaited breakthrough led to a variety of uses for monoclonal antibodies, some of which can be seen in the museum's collections.

The first boom in the use of mAbs was in diagnostics, or disease detection. The designer proteins improved everything from pregnancy tests to tests for early signs of kidney damage.

A thin, opaque, nearly flat plastic package lies next to a plastic instrument with green detailing that is covered in text. The object resembles a razor in shape and there is a white strip inside of it.

It would take years for mAbs to become successful drugs, but, by 2016, five of the world's ten most-profitable drugs were antibody-based. The museum has several examples in its collections, including Orthoclone, the first FDA-approved monoclonal drug, and Herceptin, a groundbreaking breast cancer drug.

A small, clear bottle with blue text standing upright tapers to a dropper shape at the top. It may have clear liquid in it.

Although one would expect to find mAbs represented in drugs and diagnostics, you might be surprised to know the museum has T-shirts featuring them as well. In 2013 the museum collected a number of T-shirts from the biotech company Genentech as an example of the firm's unique corporate culture. From its earliest days, Genentech employees celebrated projects by making team shirts. Designs featured slogans like "clone or die." As many of its recent drugs are mAbs, the Y-shaped proteins get a shout-out in T-shirts as well.

Combined images of a white shirt with an illustration of an upstretched fist holding an object looking like metal bars, then a close up of the shirt illustration.

This image celebrates Rituxan, the first monoclonal antibody drug produced by Genentech, in partnership with IDEC Pharmaceuticals. Rituxan was also the first mAb approved for cancer treatment. Cancer treatment had long been a goal for mAbs. Researchers hoped the targeted therapies would mean fewer side effects than traditional treatments, which damage both healthy and cancerous cells.

The image of a fist grasping an antibody works on two levels. It can be read both as a celebratory fist pump and an image of long-awaited control over these powerful proteins.

Juxtaposed image of a long-sleeved white tshirt with an illustration on the chest and a closeup of that illustration

Antibodies normally have two arms, which give them their Y-shape. However, because double-armed antibodies proved ineffective at capturing c-Met, researchers designed MetMAb to only have a single arm. The green stripes on the fisherman's arm represent a schematic design of that single-armed protein. This fun depiction of an antibody at work was designed by Katie Schwall—daughter of Ralph Schwall, one of the scientists who worked on the MetMAb project.

Although, as historian of medicine Lara V. Marks argues in The Lock and Key of Medicine, mAbs can be seen as a forgotten story of the biotech boom, we're trying to give them their time in the spotlight. If this has whetted your appetite for mAb history, check out our recently launched Antibody Initiative Website exploring antibody-based collections at the museum.

Mallory Warner is a curatorial assistant in the Division of Medicine and Science.

On Monday, October 16, 2017, join us to learn about the vaccines of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. They changed American history—yet few of us now know his name.

The Antibody Initiative was made possible through the generous support of Genentech.

Posted Date: 
Friday, October 13, 2017 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=206GQDa6fzE:yc1yAopdoZI:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=206GQDa6fzE:yc1yAopdoZI:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

24,000 Documents Detailing Life of Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted Now Available Online

Smithsonian Magazine

When 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was 14 years old, his natural affinity for the rural New England outdoors took a dangerous turn when a brush with poison sumac left him half-blinded. With long-held plans to attend Yale University put on hold, Olmsted set out to explore the world—a task he doggedly pursued over the next 20 years, long after his eyesight improved.

During that time, Olmsted worked as an apprentice on a tea ship bound for China, traveled the American South to report on slaveholding states for the New York Times, ran a farm on Staten Island and joined his younger brother on a European expedition. Then, in 1857, Olmsted returned his gaze to the natural world, nabbing a position as superintendent of the soon-to-be developed Central Park. He spent the next five decades ensconced in the art and science of natural spaces, garnering widespread acclaim as the landscape architect behind sites ranging from the Vanderbilt family’s North Carolina Biltmore estate to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Now, as preparation for the bicentennial of Olmsted’s 1822 birth ramps up, reports that the Library of Congress has digitized its collection of roughly 24,000 Olmsted papers, including journals, personal correspondence, project proposals and miscellaneous materials related to his private and professional life. Together, the documents reveal a highly intimate portrait of the famed urban and suburban planner, conservationist and writer, who is best-known today as the founder of landscape architecture and an early believer in the soothing effects of natural oases hidden amongst urban sprawl.

The collection contains roughly 47,300 scanned images dating between 1777 and 1952, although the bulk of materials date between 1838 and 1903, the year of Olmsted’s death at age 81. Given the sheer breadth of available documents, the LOC has provided a guide that links visitors directly to desired content, whether it’s a horde of papers regarding the Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World's Fair) or early drafts of an unpublished history of the United States. notes that additional collection highlights include a pencil sketch diagram of plantings for the Capitol grounds, a letter to Olmsted’s wife, Mary Cleveland Perkins Olmstead, detailing the trials endured by soldiers fighting in the Civil War and a preliminary report on the preservation of Yosemite and California’s giant sequoias.

John Singer Sargent, "Frederick Law Olmsted," 1895 (Wikimedia Commons)

The newly digitized papers offer an array of insights on the architect’s aesthetic theories, which he enumerated in private and public writings alike. Olmsted strongly believed there were distinct differences between a garden and a park, distinguishing the latter by the “spaciousness and the broad, simple, and natural character of its scenery.” All elements of an Olmsted landscape served a purpose; excessive ornamentation—often found in gardening—he saw as nothing less than “barbarous.” Ultimately, Olmsted aimed to wield unconscious influence over viewers with his creations. As he once explained, “Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; we know not exactly where or how.”

An Olmsted public space always followed several guiding principles, The Atlantic’s Nathaniel Rich explains: First, the park should complement the city in which it is housed. Second, the park should be faithful to the character of its natural landscape—for example, palm trees had no place in a New England park. Unsurprisingly, Olmsted also believed that man-made structures should only be included if absolutely necessary.

There’s a certain irony within this ideation. As Rich observes, “It takes a lot of artifice to create convincing ‘natural’ scenery. … [His designs] are not imitations of nature so much as idealizations, like the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. Each Olmsted creation was the product of painstaking sleight of hand, requiring enormous amounts of labor and expense.”

In 1895, encroaching senility led Olmsted to retire. He was admitted to a Massachusetts hospital, ironically one whose grounds he had once planned to design, and died there in 1903.

Only a decade before, Olmsted had designed the grounds of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the so-called “White City” that attracted some 25 million enraptured viewers. In a speech on the success of the Chicago exposition, Daniel Burnham, an architect and urban planner who served as director of the fair, lauded Olmsted's vision as a landscape designer. “[He is] an artist,” said Burnham, “he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views."

Why Milo's Sunrises Are a Symphony of Color in The Phantom Tollbooth

Smithsonian Magazine

Despite having 12 books under his belt, including children’s fantasy classic The Phantom Tollbooth, 86-year-old Norton Juster feels writing is “an enormous ordeal.”

“I find it very scary, and I have to fight my way through every bit of it,” says the acclaimed author and architect whose omnipresent beard once drew comparisons to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but now evokes a jolly, old elf. Juster will be speaking at the Smithsonian later this month at a screening of the Washington, D.C. premier of the documentary film The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations.

Tollbooth, Juster’s first book, was published in 1961 and came about accidentally, through procrastination and boredom. He had been awarded a Ford Foundation grant to write a textbook on urban planning for school kids, but instead found himself scribbling notes and doodles about his childhood. He started creating a fantastical world based on wordplay and puns and his friend, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, agreed to illustrate it.

“Between the two of us, we just blundered through absolutely everything, and it somehow managed to work,” he says in a faint Brooklyn accent.

The book tells the story of Milo, a disengaged 10-year-old who doesn’t understand school or grownups. A phantom tollbooth appears in his room and transports him to the Lands Beyond where he encounters strange places and people, fights demons and rescues the princess sisters of Rhyme and Reason.

Since his first haphazard writing experience with Tollbooth, Juster has refined his writing process, but he is amazed that the act of writing has not gotten easier through the years.

At the beginning of each new writing project Juster hand writes his text using different colored pencils, pens and paper.

“I draw pictures, diagrams and maps.  There are arrows going all over the place, connecting things in different ways. They are virtually unreadable,” he explains.

Then he places the notes in manila envelopes and puts them away to “germinate” or “fester.” Several weeks later, he pulls them out and rereads them to see if the words still resonate.

Jeanne, his gracious wife of more than 50 years, once offered to type up his notes so they would be easier to read. But, when he revisited them weeks later, he was lost.

“I couldn’t understand what they were because everything that I had put into them—the pictures and the diagrams—was part of the thought process and that was gone,” he says.

So he went back to his old system and has not deviated since. When writing The Hello Goodbye Window, a Caldecott award-winning picture book illustrated by Chris Raschka and published in 2005, Juster tried to capture his 4-year-old granddaughter’s voice.  

Beginning with The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster has tried to show kids how to maneuver out of the Doldrums, a place where there is nothing to do and nothing gets done. (Still from the documentary, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations)

“I thought I was doing so terrific. A couple of weeks later I took it out again, and I went through it, and I thought, no, it is not her, it’s me,” he says. He promptly crumpled up his work and started over.

“The first draft was a necessary process to clear all the cobwebs out of my head,” he explains.

Although Juster has a regimented writing process that he admits is tough work, he can point to several influences that made it easier for him to develop his unique writing style.

He believes his career as an architect and professor of environmental design had a major impact on his writing. “When you work in a field that is primarily visual, it changes you,” he says. It forced him to look at problems from several different vantage points. As a result, he now has “lots of different telescopes in his head,” which help him create disparate characters and their individual voices.

Another boon to his writing, says Juster, is the fact that he was born with synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that causes multiple senses to get activated at the same time. Synesthetes often feel as if they are hearing colors, touching sounds or tasting shapes. Scientists believe it is as if wires are getting crossed in the brain. Juster did not realize he had this syndrome until well into adulthood, but he recognizes that The Phantom Tollbooth is littered with sensory transpositions. One of the most memorable passages demonstrating this rich, metaphorical writing is a series of sunrises that Milo creates by conducting hundreds of musicians in a symphony of color that lights up the morning sky.

“It is so liberating as a way of thinking. It is a sort of projector into new ways to understand. It is the kind of handicap that is an absolute positive in your life,” says the author of his sensory perceptions.

Juster also credits his father, who emigrated from Romania at the age of 6, with passing on a love of puns and wordplay that have become a hallmark of his books. According to the author, his father injected humorous, linguistic twists into everything he said. Juster found it annoying for the longest time. ‘Then after a while, I realized, hey, I understand this now and I can do it,” he says.

Juster’s writing has delighted generations of fans from all over the world as The Phantom Tollbooth has been translated into nearly 30 languages. He is always humbled and thrilled when readers tell him that his books have changed their lives.  One of his goals has always been to give his readers a “wider world to occupy.”

“People tell me how they can now do things that they couldn’t do, or think about things that they couldn’t think about in a way before,” he adds.

Juster understands from personal experience that childhood can be lonely and frightening and that “boredom can be damaging if you let it get the best of you.” Beginning with The Phantom Tollbooth, the author has tried to show kids how to maneuver out of the Doldrums, a place where there is nothing to do and nothing gets done. 

“I was trying to get kids to understand how creatively, and how imaginatively they can look at things and the difference it would make in their lives,” he explains. For many grateful readers over the last five decades, Norton Juster has succeeded in banishing boredom, and in so doing, widening their worlds.

Author and architect Juster Norton spoke July 12 at a Smithsonian Associate program in Washington, D.C. highlighting the enduring legacy of his children’s fantasy classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.  The program featured the documentary film, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, which explores the longtime friendship between Juster and the book’s illustrator Jules Feiffer and chronicles how the iconic tale was created. Grammy-winning singer-storyteller Bill Harley, who wrote “Milo’s Tune” inspired by the main character in the book, also appeared.

Columbia University Cyclotron (John R. Dunning, 1939)

National Museum of American History
Background on Dunning Cyclotron; object id no. 1978.1074.01

This object consists of the core component of an early particle accelerator (“atom smasher”), based on the principle developed in 1931 by Ernest O. Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor John R. Dunning (1907-1975) and his team constructed this example of Lawrence’s “cyclotron” starting in 1936 in the basement of the Pupin Physics Laboratories building at Columbia University in New York City. A schematic diagram and brief historical account of the Dunning system appears in “The Nuclear Chain Reaction- Forty Years Later”, Robert G. Sachs ed., 1984, p.17/fig. 5 (go to While this cyclotron was not particularly innovative, it did introduce one new feature. In order to get the highest possible voltage on the accelerating electrodes of the cyclotron (the “dees”), the Dunning cyclotron team used a system designed by team member Herbert L. Anderson to feed the dees with a pair of resonant concentric lines coupled to a high-power oscillator; their cyclotron was the first to use the resonant concentric line feeding system. During its long operational life, this cyclotron underwent modifications, and its present state (see image in associated media files) does not reflect its original design.

When thrilling word was received in January 1939 that German scientists Otto Hann and Fritz Strassman had identified a completely unexpected effect, the splitting of the uranium nucleus when it absorbs a neutron, the cyclotron was not yet fully functioning. It therefore just missed being used as the first neutron source to verify the discovery outside Europe. In late January 1939, Dunning’s team initially used a radioactive beryllium-radon mixture as the neutron source to bombard a uranium oxide target, to verify the fission process. Subsequently, Dunning repeated the experiment many times to be sure that his findings were accurate. He used two different neutron sources: the natural beryllium radon mixture; and the cyclotron (in which an energetic beam of protons from the cyclotron struck a stationary metal target to produce a secondary neutron beam). Right away, the cyclotron was rapidly and intensively put to use in numerous experiments to follow up the news from Europe.

In March 1940, the team used the cyclotron to show that it was the comparatively rare uranium-235 isotope that was the most readily fissile component, and not the abundant uranium-238. The samples of U-235 and U-238 were provided by Dunning’s colleague Alfred O. Nier of the University of Minnesota. Nier isolated small quantities of the isotopes by means of a device based on a mass spectrometer originally developed for measurement of relative abundance of isotopes. Nier’s device is also in the Modern Physics Collection (object id no. 1990.0446.01; catalog no. N-09567), and it is presented on the SI collections website. (Search for “Nier Mass Spectrograph” at This proof, that U-235 was the fissile uranium isotope, opened the way to the intense U.S. efforts under the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb.

After a long and useful life, the Dunning cyclotron was retired in 1965. The core components were donated to the Smithsonian Institution in December 1965, but the carbon steel electromagnet, weighing over 30 tons, remained at the Pupin Laboratories until its removal a few years ago. Since the cyclotron was modified over its life, the images of the object now at the Smithsonian (see accompanying media files) do not necessarily represent the original object circa 1939, as noted above.

Basic principles of the cyclotron

The cyclotron is the simplest of circular particle accelerators. (To see a diagram of a typical cyclotron, go to At its center is a vacuum chamber which is placed between the pole pieces of a large electromagnet. Within the chamber is a pair “dees” - two flat D-shaped hollow metallic shells - positioned back-to-back forming a cylindrical space, with a uniform gap between the straight sides of the two dees. The plane of the dees is parallel to the faces of the magnet pole pieces. An alternating voltage is applied across the gap between the dees, creating an associated time-varying electric field in that space.

Electrically charged particles, such as protons or alpha particles, are introduced into the chamber from an ion source at the center. The charged particles are constrained to travel in a circular path inside the dees in a plane perpendicular to the direction of the static uniform magnetic field produced by the electromagnet. The electric field accelerates the particles across the gap between the dees. The electric field is made to alternate with the “cyclotron period” of the particle (determined by magnetic field strength and the particle’s mass and charge). Thus, when the particles complete a semi-circle and arrive at the gap again, the electric field has reversed, so that the particles are again accelerated across the gap. Due to their increased speed in the constant magnetic field, the particles now move in a larger circle.

The increasing speed of the particles causes them to move in a larger radius with each half-rotation, resulting in a spiral path outward from the center to the outer rim of the dees. When they reach the rim the particles are pulled out by a deflecting electrode, and hit a target located at the exit point at the rim of the chamber, or leave the cyclotron through an evacuated beam tube to hit a remote target. Nuclear reactions due to the collisions of the particle beam and the target atoms will create secondary particles which may be guided outside of the cyclotron and into instruments for analysis.

Although the radius of the particle’s radius increases with its speed (energy), it can be decreased with a higher magnetic field strength. In a given cyclotron, the limit to the energy for a given type of particle is set by the strength of the magnetic field and the diameter of the dees, which is in turn determined by the diameter of the magnet pole pieces. Thus very large powerful magnets were constructed for cyclotrons. However, due to relativistic effects, as particles approach the speed of light, their relativistic mass increases. Thus, the classical cyclotron is capable of accelerating particles up to only a few percent of the speed of light. To achieve higher particle energies, later generation cyclotrons used either modifications to the frequency of the electric field (as in the “synchrocyclotron”), or modifications to the magnetic field during acceleration (as in the “isochronous cyclotron”).

For accelerating particles to the highest energies in circular machines, the “synchrotron” was developed in the mid-1940s. In contrast to a cyclotron, particles in a synchrotron are constrained to move in a circle of constant radius by the use of a ring of electromagnets, open in the middle and so much less massive than an equivalent cyclotron magnet. The magnetic field is varied in such a way that the radius of curvature remains constant as the particles gain energy through successive accelerations by a synchronized alternating electric field. For an example of the powerful electromagnets used in modern synchrotrons for high energy physics research, see object id no. 2012.0186.01, Sections of Magnets for Superconducting Super Collider, presented on the SI collections website. (Search for “Sections of Magnets for Superconducting Super Collider” at

Uses of cyclotrons.

For several decades, cyclotrons were the best source of high-energy beams for nuclear physics experiments; several cyclotrons are still in use for this type of research. They enable the determination of various properties, such as the mean spacing between atoms, and the creation of various collision products. Subsequent chemical and particle analysis of the target material may give insight into nuclear transmutation of the elements used in the target.

In medicine, cyclotrons and synchrotrons can be used in particle therapy to treat cancer. Ion beams from these accelerators can be used, as in proton therapy, to penetrate the body and kill tumors by radiation damage, while minimizing damage to healthy tissue along their path. The particle beams can be used to bombard other atoms to produce short-lived positron-emitting isotopes suitable for PET imaging.

Type-O-Rama: What do typewriters reveal about innovation?

National Museum of American History

The sound of clicking typewriter keys filled the museum's Innovation Wing recently during Type-O-Rama. This event, presented by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project team, featured typewriters from the permanent collections and gave visitors a chance to try their hands at typing on models from the teaching collection. The poets from Typewriter Rodeo brought their vintage machines along to compose free poems on any topic—even an ode to typewriters themselves!

Nine typewriters of varying styles and eras set out on a table

The Taylor Foundation Object Project explores how objects we use in daily life grew out of groundbreaking innovations, and typewriters are one example of these "everyday things that changed everything." At Type-O-Rama, seeing machines that were used in American history and tapping away on devices from different eras got us thinking about what we can learn about innovation through typewriters.

Why revisit typewriter innovations today?

When you look at a computer or cell phone today, you can see evidence of the typewriter. It was used for many of the same purposes as today’s devices, like office work, personal correspondence, and creative expression. Controlled by physical touch, typewriters allowed users to stamp ink letters directly on paper with the press of a key.

A boy types on a black electric IBM typewriter

Visitors to Type-O-Rama got firsthand experience with Taylor Foundation Object Project teaching collection objects, including a 1920s manual Royal typewriter and a 1950s electric IBM typewriter. Many of our younger visitors had never seen a typewriter in person or touched one before encountering our teaching collection machines. These authentic objects are intended for close-up examination and handling, unlike ones in the museum's permanent collection.

Black and white photograph of a woman sitting at a desk in front of a large typewriter

Noticing the different feels and sounds of manual and electric typewriters, visitors got a sense of how these machines have been used in different contexts and times. They also discovered how durable typewriters can be: if a key got stuck or the carriage jammed, museum educators were on hand to show visitors how to fix these issues pretty quickly. (Unlike, perhaps, solving a problem with your computer today!)

How have typewriters changed over time?

At Type-O-Rama, curator Susan Tolbert shared typewriters from the Work and Industry collection that illustrated a variety of changes and innovations in these devices from different eras.

A woman wearing gloves opens a lid on a typewriter to show its all-uppercase keyboard

Mark Twain, an early adopter of the Remington, called it a "new fangled writing machine." The Remington's QWERTY keyboard, developed by Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos S. Glidden, was specifically designed to slow typing speeds in order to lessen the chances that machines would jam. Jamming could occur when the mechanical type bars, which were operated by the keys and arranged in a semicircle, clashed against each other. Most computer keyboards today still use the QWERTY layout, even though there's no longer a mechanical reason to do so.

Left: a small typewriter sitting in a purple case: Right: two diagrams showing the placement of letters on a QWERTY versus a scientific keyboard

The Blickensderfer No. 5 typewriter has a "scientific" rather than a QWERTY keyboard, with the most commonly used letters on the bottom row to reduce hand movement. It also has a patented "type wheel" that contains all the characters and different type fonts. The wheel would rotate to strike the paper and create a typed mark, a method that minimized jamming.

What can typewriters reveal about the people who used them?

Typewriters provide a way to explore technological innovations as well as the stories of the people who used them. Curator Stacey Kluck shared a few objects from the Culture and the Arts collection that were used by notable people.

A black and white photo of a woman holding a book (Mildred Wirt Benson) next to an Underwood typewriter out on display at the museum

Beginning in the 1930s, Mildred Wirt Benson, also known as Carolyn Keene, used this Underwood Model 5 typewriter to write several Nancy Drew mysteries. The faded keys show its regular use, and the worn spot on the right side of the space bar reveals that Benson was probably right-handed.

Black and white photograph of women sitting in close rows working on typewriters

While Benson's machine has a unique connection to her life and beloved book series, the Underwood Model 5 was a ubiquitous device. The first widely popular workplace typewriter, it was used by many different people in a variety of jobs and contexts.

Left: A small yellow and black typewriter. Right: two men standing behind that same typewriter in a collections storage space.

Shirley Temple used this Bing typewriter, branded as an Anfoe Student Model, in the late 1930s, when she was around 10 years old. Made by a German toy company, student models like the Anfoe were lightweight and small in size to be practical for children to use.

A woman and a man look closely at a gold, rounded typewriter

How did users' needs drive typewriter innovations?

This 1872 Hansen Writing Ball probably doesn't strike you as a classic typewriter in appearance, but the Danish-made writing ball was considered an engineering feat.

Rasmus Malling-Hansen, an educator and the inventor of the writing ball, created a Braille model of the writing ball that users who were blind or had low vision could operate independently. The most famous writing ball owner was philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who sought a typewriter that he could use as his vision declined.

Alfred Ely Beach received a patent in 1856 for an "Improvement in Printing Instruments for the Blind." Instead of making ink marks, his typewriter imprinted raised letters on paper for reading by touch.

A piece of white paper with typewriter lettering on it

Typewriters have been used by many different people, for different purposes. We think this poem by Typewriter Rodeo poet Sean, "The Tip of History," articulates what makes typewriters so fascinating: their look and feel, how they've evolved over time, and how people have used them as a tool for work, communication, and creativity.

To see photos from Type-O-Rama and read more Typewriter Rodeo poetry, check out our album:




Caitlin Kearney is a new media assistant for the Taylor Foundation Object Project. Previously, she has blogged about exploring historical innovations through a classic American game show.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=CiM6Z43r5Pk:8oCB4cQs57M:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=CiM6Z43r5Pk:8oCB4cQs57M:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Remembering the "Father of Video Games," Innovator Ralph Baer

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1966, Ralph Baer, an engineer overseeing a cadre of 500 military contractors, was struck with an idea: create a technology that would allow people to interact, directly, with their television sets, which were beginning to become ubiquitous in the American home. For five years, Baer—along with a small team of researchers—set about drafting and tinkering with multiple prototypes, eventually submitting a patent for the first video game system in March of 1971. A little over a year later, in the summer of 1972, Baer and his team licensed their system to Magnavox, who marketed the system under the name "Odyssey." It sold 130,000 units in its first year, becoming the first home video game console—and earning Baer the nickname "father of video games."

Baer, 92, died on Saturday, Dec. 6, at his home in Manchester, N.H., but his legacy lives on in the $90 billion industry born from his imagination in 1966. But to those who knew him, such as Art Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, Baer's legacy goes beyond the games he invented or the industry he helped to start. "This was a very creative man, a very decent man, very humble. He was really a force," Molella says. "He represents the American legacy about invention. He really is an incredible American story."

Baer was born on March 8, 1922, in Pirmasens, Germany, to a Jewish family which came to America in 1938, fleeing Hitler and Nazi Germany. Settling in the Bronx, Baer worked to pay for correspondence courses that taught him how to repair radios and television sets. In 1943, he was drafted into the Army, becoming an intelligence officer. But he continued to tinker with electronics, making radios in his spare time from German mine detectors. After the war, he earned his bachelor's in television engineering from the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1951, he had the idea of adding a game-play feature to a television that he was charged with designing, but was rebuffed by his boss. The idea, however, seems to have stuck with Baer—and 15 years later, the idea was reborn as the first video game.

"Who could have predicated a guy running away from the Nazis as a kid ends up being a major inventor in this country?" Molella asks, adding that "the thing that makes [Baer] what he is is he's just an incredibly creative man. He's driven to create."

Baer met Molella in 2001, after approaching the Lemelson Center with his son Mark. They were looking, Molella says, for a place to donate Baer's papers. Today, the Center is home to Baer's notes, photographs, diagrams and blueprints—as well as items from his home lab, which Molella visited and documented in 2001.

"He worked out of a basement and it was one of these environments that was so suited and tailored to him. It's this place that was not only a resource for all of the 'junk' he could put together in new ways, but it was also a place for contemplation," Molella says. "He built a wall in the basement like the outside of a house, with a mailbox and a little window through it, and to communicate with him while he was in the throes of invention you had to put a letter in the mailbox—even his wife had to put a letter in there. It was his retreat into thought." This July, Baer's lab will be installed in its new home on the first floor of the Lemelson Center, allowing the public to experience the kind of creative retreat where Baer worked.

But the Baer gem of the Lemelson's collection, Molella says, is the "brown box"—the original prototype for a video game console that paved the way for everything from Play Station to Xbox. "That’s the real treasure that we have from him," Molella says. "That's it; that started something."

In addition to the brown box, Baer is responsible for the popular memory game Simon, which he invented in 1978. The early, portable computer game helped pave the way for other popular games, like Pac Man. 

Baer retired from the contracting firm Sanders Associates, Inc.—the company for which he worked when he filed the patent for the first video game—in 1987, but he never stopped imagining new ideas. Molella recalls an award ceremony last year, where Baer was asked why, at his age, he continued inventing. "He said, 'Nobody would say that to Van Gogh,'" Molella remembers. "He said he was compelled to do it."

What Does an Eclipse Sound Like?

Smithsonian Magazine

How would you describe an eclipse to a blind person? The moon moves in front of the sun, yes. But what does that look like? Someone trained in illustrative description of images might say, “The moon appears as a featureless black disk that nearly blocks out the sun. The sun's light is still visible as a thin band around the moon's black disk. To the upper right, at the moon's leading edge, a small area of sunlight still shines brilliantly.”

That’s just an example of how such an event could be described. Bryan Gould, director of accessible learning and assessment technologies at the National Center for Accessible Media, a non-profit working to make media experiences accessible to people with disabilities, is hoping to offer oral descriptions of the eclipse in an app. Paired with other features, like a tactile diagram and audio from the changing natural environment as the eclipse darkens the sky, the app is designed to make the event more accessible to blind or visually impaired people who want to experience it.

Gould is working with Henry Winter, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to develop the app, called Eclipse Soundscapes. As the August 21 solar eclipse darkens a path across the United States, Eclipse Soundscapes will release descriptions, timed—based on the user’s location—to match the progress of the eclipse.

Winter conceived Eclipse Soundscapes after a conversation with a friend who’s been blind since birth. She asked him to explain what an eclipse means.

 “I realized I didn’t have the vocabulary to answer that question for her,” says Winter. “Every way I thought about it was visual in nature, and I didn’t know how to explain it to somebody … light, dark, bright, dim, flash. All these different words have no meaning to somebody that’s never seen.”

But the project goes well beyond audio descriptions. It includes two further elements: audio of the changing soundscape caused by the eclipse, and a tactile exploration of the eclipse’s image (which means that people who are blind or visually impaired can “feel” the eclipse using vibrations on their smartphones).

Many creatures become active as the sun sets, and many of them use darkness as an indicator of time of day. During an eclipse, crickets will chirp and frogs will chorus, thinking night has fallen. These habits were noted as far back as 1932, in a Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences article titled “Observations on the Behavior of Animals During the Total Solar Eclipse of August 31, 1932.”

Such an event might provide an interesting representation of the eclipse, thought Winter, so he partnered with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds program, which preserves and catalogs sounds from the parks. Helpers stationed at national parks along the route will record audio during the eclipse, to hear the change in the “bioacoustical chorus” of the animals.

This can’t happen in real time, of course, so the National Center for Accessible Media is providing illustrative descriptions, based on a previous eclipse. The sounds of crickets, frogs and birds becoming active on the day of the eclipse will be added to the app later.

Last, with the help of an audio engineer named Miles Gordon, Winter is trying something completely new. Gordon developed a “rumble map” of the eclipse: The app places images of different stages of an eclipse on your smartphone’s screen, and as you trace your finger across the eclipse’s image, the vibration increases or decreases based on the brightness of the image.

“It does give you the impression that you’re actually feeling the sun, as you move your finger around,” says Winter.

Henry Winter, center, demonstrates the interactive "rumble map". (Kelsey Perrett)

Scientists around the world will be using the eclipse as an opportunity to study solar astronomy in a way they usually can’t, measuring the ultraviolet light emitted from the sun’s corona, which Earth-based observers can’t normally see, as it is overpowered by the normal sunlight. It’s also rare for an eclipse to cover this much land — it traverses from Oregon to South Carolina — and Winter points out that it is a particularly good opportunity for education and outreach.

Though education is important, for Wanda Diaz Merced, a visiting scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is completely blind, there’s a lot more to the eclipse than that. Merced, who has consulted on the Eclipse Soundscapes project, studies human-computer interaction and astrophysics, and to do her research, she needs assistance translating data into a format she can interact with. She’s been building tools to help with that translation, and sees elements of Winter’s project that could contribute.

“It’s still not a prototype that I may use, for example, to study elements of the photosphere. It is not on that stage,” says Merced. “But hopefully one day we will be able to not only hear, but to touch.”

The eclipse will occur on August 21, starting around 10 a.m. in Oregon and finishing by 3 p.m .in South Carolina. The Eclipse Soundscapes app is available for iOS now, and the team is working on an Android app as well.

The Revolutionary Infographics of W.E.B. Du Bois And Booker T. Washington

Smithsonian Magazine

These days, data visualizations are a popular tool for everyone from researchers to reporters trying to explain complex concepts and statistics. But just because computers make it easier to create these images doesn’t mean infographics are a recent invention. One of the earliest known data visualizations can be dated all the way back to the 11th century, writes Clive Thompson for Smithsonian Magazine. Now, a 116-year-old series of infographics by a group led by W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and a prominent lawyer named Thomas J. Calloway detailing the lives of African-Americans in the post-Civil War United States have begun to circulate again. In many ways, the work is just as revolutionary now as it was when it was first created.

It was actually slavery that first drove some of the country’s most important data visualizations, Thompson writes. When the South began to secede from the United States in the mid-19th century, the federal government used data from the latest census to highlight the concentration of slaves in each county of Virginia. Those data visualizations helped President Abraham Lincoln understand where slavery was the weakest.

When the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World Fair of 1900, occurred, slavery remained a recent memory for African-Americans. Many black intellectuals and researchers were concerned with how their community was faring in the years since slavery had been abolished. In order to represent the African-American community at the exposition, the group of researchers compiled and organized an exhibit of infographics, photographs, maps and other materials documenting their experience since the end of slavery, Brentin Mock writes for CityLab.

By presenting quantified data on how black people had fared in the years after the Civil War, Du Bois hoped to provide “an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.” In addition to photographic portraits of black people from the turn of the century, the infographics depict what had changed for African-Americans since slavery, in everything from education to income, Allison Meier reports for Hyperallergic.

The group settled on data gathered in Georgia, as the state had the largest black population in the U.S. at the time. While Du Boise, Washington and Calloway were the banner names on the project, many of the vibrantly colored, hand-drawn infographics were made in collaboration with students from historically black colleges like Atlanta University and Tuskegee University, Mock writes. But though the drawings are over a century old, they still stand out as revolutionary for both their form and content.

“Looking at the charts, they’re strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky,” Meier writes. “But they are in line with innovative 19th-century data visualization, which included Florence Nightingale’s “coxcomb” diagrams on causes of war mortality and William Farr’s dynamic cholera charts. Du Bois himself used horizontal bar graphs in his 1899 study The Philadelphia Negro.”

The final exhibit in Paris featured 60 full-color charts on display, as well as 200 books by black authors and hundreds of photographs and maps. Taken together, the exhibition not only highlighted how far the African-American community had advanced in less than half a century, but gave the researchers an opportunity to focus on their intellectual achievements and experience in a time when the slave era was still in living memory and “human zoos” featuring people of color from colonized countries were still a common sight, as Meier writes.

Image by Library of Congress. "The rise of the Negroes from slavery to freedom in one generation." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Assessed valuation of of all taxable property owned by Georgia Negroes." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Proportion of Negroes in the total population of the United States." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Number of Negro students taking the various courses of study offered in Georgia schools." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Slaves and free Negroes." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Negro property in two cities of Georgia." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Occupations of Negroes and whites in Georgia." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "Assessed value of household and kitchen furniture owned by Georgia Negroes." (original image)

Image by Library of Congress. "City and rural population. 1890." (original image)

The Strange Story of the Westinghouse Atom Smasher

Smithsonian Magazine

Van de Graaff generators can be found throughout the country in classrooms and museums. The small orbs full of static electricity are commonly used to demonstrate how electricity works and wow visitors by making their hair stand on end. But as the residents of Forest Hills, Pennsylvania can tell you, they're good for much more than that. 

For almost 80 years, the Westinghouse Atom Smasher was a landmark in Forest Hills, which is now a suburb of Pittsburgh. Towering 65 feet in the air, it was part of a complex operated by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s research facility. “The atom smasher was the centerpiece of the first large-scale program in nuclear physics established in industry,” writes the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

It operated from 1937 until 1958, writes Jill Harkins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and as late as 2015—when the atom smasher was knocked over—many residents of Forest Hills still saw the bulb as representative of the atomic age and their own childhood.

But the atom smasher was important outside of Forest Hills as well. It helped to establish Westinghouse’s involvement with the non-weapons applications of nuclear technology. By 1941, Westinghouse was producing pure uranium at the facility, according to the Senator John Heinz History Center. The innovations that took place at the atom smasher went on to make Westinghouse the nuclear power player it still is today:Westinghouse built the generating plant for the first commercial-scale nuclear power facility, which was located in Shippenport, another town in Pennsylvania.

Today we call atom smashers “particle accelerators” or colliders. But it was the 1930s and understanding of nuclear physics was still pretty remedial in the general population. A Popular Science article from July 1937 about the Westinghouse facility declared, “Huge generator to smash atoms,” providing a diagram.

It worked like any of the smaller generators  invented by Robert J. Van de Graaff in 1929: by static electricity. The collider used a fabric belt that rotated very fast, creating friction and up to five million volts of electricity, which was used to speed up particles. These high-energy particles were guided to hit targeted atoms, splitting them (or “smashing” them) to create nuclear energy. In celebration of Van de Graaff's birthday, we're telling you how his invention was used in the Atomic Age. 

“The steady voltage of the generator, its chief advantage over other types of accelerators, allowed the reactions to be measured precisely, thus contributing to basic knowledge of nuclear physics,” writes the IEEE. “Research with the atom smasher in 1940 led to the discovery of the photo-fission of uranium, part of the process involved in the generation of nuclear power.” The Westinghouse Atom Smasher wasn't the only one built using the Van de Graaff design, but it was the first. 

But although the atom smasher occupies an important place in local history and American nuclear history, in 2015 the iconic bulb fell. A Washington developer who had purchased the Westinghouse site in 2012 planned to build apartments on the site, Harkins writes. The developer said that the atom smasher would be placed on a new concrete pedestal and repainted, but as of December 4 a local citizens interest group wrote that the atom smasher wasn’t going anywhere yet. Earlier in the year, Bob Hazen wrote for Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News that the iconic bulb was still lying on its side at the demolition site.

As of this holiday season, though, the Westinghouse Atom Smasher is preserved in Pittsburgh as a model that's part of the Carnegie Science Center miniature railroad.

Ernst Mach papers, 1865-1918

Smithsonian Libraries
Additional material includes Czechoslovakian and German seminar announcements

An unidentified item, probably a printed booklet (based on the size of the frame cut into the preceding leaves that would have surrounded the document) has been removed from one of the endleaves

Most of the letters in this volume were written by Mach to Eduard Kulke. Other correspondents include Josef Popper-Lynkeus and Paul Tausig

The identity of the original owner of the scrapbook and collector of the materials is unknown. A note in the Dibner Library's provenance file speculates that the scrapbook was put together in 1938, but the source of that information is not given

Tipped-in printed booklets include: Gomperz, H. "Ernst Mach." (Separatabdruck aus dem 'Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie;' Bd. 29, 4; pages [321]-328). Einstein, A. "Ernst Mach." (Sonderdruck aus der Physikalischen Zeitschrift, Verlag von S. Hirzel in Leipzig, 17. Jahrgang, 1916; 4 pages). An issue of Die Naturwissenschaften (5. Jahrgang, Heft 5, 2 Februar 1917). Haas, K. "Hofrat Dr. Ernst Mach." (Separatabdruck aus 'Vierteljahrsberichte des Wiener Vereines zur Förderung des physikalischen und chemischen Unterrichtes, Jahrgang 1916, Heft 1; 14 pages). Helm, G. "Ernst Mach, dem naturwissenschaftlichen Denker, zum Gedächtnis." (Abhandlungen der naturwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft ISIS in Dresden, 1916; pages [45]-54). Höfler, A. "Ernst Mach." (Sonderabdruck aus der Zeitschrift für den physikalischen und chemischen Unterricht. 29. Jahrgang, 2. Heft; März 1916; pages [57]-63 plus portrait). Petzoldt, Joseph. "Ernst Mach." (Sonderabdruck au Kunstwart 29, 12; [2] pages). Lampa, Anton. "Ernst Mach." (Sonderdruck aus der Monatschrift 'Deutsche Arbeit', Jahrgang 15, Heft 11, pages [608]-619). Baege, M.H. Die Naturphilosophie von Ernst Mach. Berlin: Psychologisch-Soziologischer Verlag, 1916 (31 pages). Lampa, Anton. Ernst Mach. Prag: Verlag Deutsche Arbeit, 1918 (64 pages)

Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Manuscripts of the Dibner collection, 1008

Also available online

Also available online.

Austrian physicist and philosopher

Collected by Bern Dibner for his Burndy Library in Norwalk, Connecticut, founded in 1941. Donated to the Smithsonian Libraries in 1974 by Dibner DSI


SCDIRB copy 39088003881406 has provenance: Bern Dibner (donor)

SCDIRB copy has a contemporary full leather binding in an art-deco-inspired design, with the name "MACH" appearing in thick raised lettering on the front cover. Housed in a later light green linen-covered clamshell box with printed spine label

Scrapbook containing a mixture of mounted or tipped-in materials, including: 99 letters (typescript and holograph, dating from between 1865-1915; some of the typescript letters were mechanically reproduced; some include hand-drawn diagrams); 40 postcards (typed and holograph); 7 calling cards; portraits and photographs; 1 telegram; 2 holograph manuscripts; 8 newspaper excerpts (obituaries); 2 memorial booklets (1916, 1918); and 13 journal articles by Einstein, Gomperz, Popper, and others

Coradi Model 30 Rolling Sphere Planimeter

National Museum of American History
This planimeter can measure larger diagrams than planimeters with a fixed arm, and it is designed to eliminate errors introduced by irregularities in the paper. It moves on two German silver rollers. The roller on the left rotates a steel wheel that in turn rotates an axle that turns the measuring wheel and registering dial. The measuring wheel has a vernier. All three parts are made of white plastic. The ten-inch rectangular German silver tracer arm is attached to a carriage below the measuring wheel and between the rollers. It has a brass tracer with steel point and support. The length of the arm is adjustable, and it is evenly divided to 0.5mm and numbered from 10 to 54. An extension for the tracer arm adds eight inches to its length and is numbered from 55 to 88. Above the roller on the right is marked: G. Coradi, Zürich (/) Switzerland (/) No 1550. An oblong German silver testing rule is marked for 0", 1", 2", 3", and 4". It is also marked: G. Coradi. A fitted wooden case is covered with black leather and lined with purple velvet. The brush that goes in the corner of the case is missing. A paper printed calibration chart glued inside the lid has columns in French for Scales, Position of the vernier on the tracer bar, Value of the unit of the vernier on the measuring roller, and Constant. The values are handwritten, and the Constant column is crossed out. A paragraph explains how to store the instrument. The date on the chart indicates the Coradi firm made serial number 1,550 on November 2, 1901. A separate card has the chart values translated into English. According to a 1915 catalog, Coradi sold this size of planimeter as model 30. The top of the case is marked: MU 3412. The key for the case is tied to the handle with string. A metal circle on the bottom of the case is marked: WEBCO. The Zurich workshop of Gottlieb Coradi (1847–1929) made a variety of planimeters beginning in the early 1880s, with the rolling sphere form debuting around 1900. The Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia donated this example in 1972. Although when and where the department acquired it is not known, American firms such as Keuffel & Esser and Dietzgen distributed Coradi's precision disc planimeter. K&E sold this size before 1901 as model 1106 and from 1901 to 1936 as model 4260, charging $82.50 in 1900. Dietzgen only sold a larger version that had twelve-inch and eight-inch tracer arm pieces. Compare to 1977.0112.01. A later instruction manual is 1977.0112.02. For other objects from the Univ. of Missouri's donation, see MA.333663 and MA.333636. References: J. W. Beardsley, "Description and Theory of Coradi's Rolling Ball Planimeter," Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies 28 (1902): 67–77; J. Y. Wheatley, The Polar Planimeter and Its Use in Engineering Calculations (New York: Keuffel & Esser, 1903), chapter 10,; Clark McCoy, "Collection of Pages from K&E Catalogs for the 4260 Family of Precision Rolling Planimeters,"; Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser, 30th ed. (New York, 1900), 308; Catalogue & Price List of Eugene Dietzgen Co., 7th ed. (Chicago, 1904), 363; Mathematical-Mechanical Institute of G. Coradi, Catalogue of Mathematical Precision Instruments (Zurich, 1915), 13–17.

Coffin Planimeter Arm Signed by Ashcroft Manufacturing Company, No. 1423

National Museum of American History
This German silver instrument is a curved bar with a short arm, on which a short cylindrical weight is placed, and a longer arm, to which a tracer point is screwed. The middle of the bar has a thin cross-rod, on which a measuring wheel rotates against a wedge-shaped vernier. The wheel is numbered from 0 to 14, with each unit divided into five parts. The vernier is corroded and may be a different type of metal from the rest of the instrument. The bar is marked: THE ASHCROFT MFG. CO. (/) — SOLE MANUFACTURERS. — (/) COFFIN'S PAT. JUNE 6. 1882. The underside of the bar is marked: No. 1423. The serial number suggests this object is not as old as MA.323705. A wooden case is covered with dark brown leather and lined with purple silk and velvet. The top of the case is marked: MADE BY (/) THE ASHCROFT MANF'G CO. (/) NEW YORK & BRIDGEPORT. John Coffin of Syracuse, N.Y., applied for a patent on this variation on a planimeter in July 1881. He designed his "averageometer" to calculate areas in diagrams of work performed by steam engines. The Ashcroft Manufacturing Company of New York City and Bridgeport, Conn., was the first of several American firms to make the device. Ashcroft, best known for making pressure gauges for steam engines, often sold the arm for Coffin's planimeter separately from its base, as in this example. In 1910, Frederick C. Blanchard, Ernest B. Crocker, and Philip G. Darling, who all probably worked for Ashcroft, patented an improvement to Coffin's planimeter so that it could be clamped in place. The planimeters made by Ashcroft after 1910 utilized this improvement, so this example was made between 1882 and 1910. In 1912, company founder Edward H. Ashcroft sold his interest to Charles A. Moore, who renamed the firm Manning, Maxwell, and Moore (MM&M). Dresser Industries, Inc., purchased MM&M in 1964. Ashcroft survived as a brand name. References: John Coffin, "Averageometer, or Instrument for Measuring the Average Breadth of Irregular Planes" (U.S. Patent 258,993 issued June 6, 1882); N. Hawkins, Hawkins' Indicator Catechism (New York: Theo. Audel & Co., 1903), 140–142; James Ambrose Moyer, Power Plant Testing (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1911), 73–78; David R. Green, "Coffin Planimeters," June 16, 2008,; Richard Oliver, "Ashcroft Manufacturing Co. History,"

Psychological Apparatus, Electronic Stimulating and Recording Unit

National Museum of American History
This metal frame holds several electronic units. On the right side, in a single cabinet, are five groups of dials and switches, each with its own white plastic panel in front. These five groups are labeled, from top to bottom: Timer, Strobe, Sweep, Delayers and Stimulators. On the left side in an upper cabinet there is some empty space and then groups of dials and switches on white plastic panels labeled Integrator Serial No. 6119, Integrator Control Panel, Display Selector and Differentiator Serial No. 5710, and Speaker Amplifier Serial No. 5812. The speaker amplifier panel includes a gauge made by British Physical Laboratory. The back of the cabinet holding these units has several diagrams drawn on it. Attached to the top of this cabinet toward the front is a connecting unit which has eighteen jacks for electrical connections, six each red, black and white. Below these left panels is a larger panel with additional switches and dials which has its own cabinet. A tag near on the third unit down on the right reads: Electronic Stimulating and Recording Unit (/) Designed and Constructed [/] in the [/] Otago Medical School (/) New Zealand (/) 1951. A metal tag at the top reads: THE AUSTRALIAN {/} NATIONAL UNIVERSITY [/] NO. A crayon mark below this reads: ELECTRONIC STIMULATING & RECORDING UNIT w / POWER SUPPLIES. Several units are marked: SUNY. This object reflects the long research career of Sir John C. Eccles (1903-1997), an Australian-born neurophysiologist who trained at Melbourne University in Australia and then did advanced work at Oxford University with Charles S. Sherrington. In 1937, he returned to Australia, and then moved to New Zealand in 1944. As the tag indicates, at least part of this apparatus was built near the end of his stay there. In 1952, Eccles moved to the Australian University in Canberra. University policies required that he retire in 1966, and he moved to the United States, working first in Chicago and then at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1975, Eccles retired from Buffalo to Geneva, Switzerland, leaving behind papers and this unit. The object came to the Smithsonian in 1981. During his time in New Zealand, Eccles developed apparatus for studying neural transmission and became convinced that transmission from nerve cell to nerve cell or nerve cell to muscle cell occurred through a chemical reaction and not strictly by an electrical mechanism. This is part of the apparatus he used in such studies. In 1963, he would share the Nobel Prize for physiology or Medicine for this wok. The other winners were Britons Alan L. Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley, who worked together at Cambridge University. Eccles took the stimulating and recording unit with him when he moved to Australia and then to the United States. References: Accession file. D. George Joseph, “John C. Eccles,” Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, Emily J. McMurray, editor; Jane Kelly Kosek and Roger M. Valade III, associate editors, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995, vol. 1, pp. 542-544. Martin Weil, “Sir John Eccles, 94, Dies; Nobel-Winning Scientist,” Washington Post, May 3, 1997, p. B4.

Vopel Compendium

National Museum of American History
This is a complex brass instrument, consisting of a nocturnal, a sundial, a lunar aspectarium, and a geometrical quadrant. The maker, Caspar Vopel (1511-1561), taught mathematics in Cologne and studied cosmography. He made a number of armillary spheres and globes. The nocturnal is used to find the time of night from observations of circumpolar stars. On a simple nocturnal, a pair of circular scales and an alidade are mounted together. The larger circle is divided into a monthly zodiac calendar to set the instrument to the proper date. The smaller circle is divided into 24 hours, eighteen of which are marked to be read by touch in the dark. The observer would sight the pole star through the center of the instrument and align the alidade with the "pointer" stars of Ursa Major. Simple nocturnals were one of the most commonplace mathematical instruments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This compendium’s nocturnal and lunar aspectarium are on one side with the sundial in the design of fifteenth century astronomer Regiomontanus and the geometrical quadrant on the other. The nocturnal side has a zodiac calendar on the outermost ring of the base plate. The calendar scale is marked with the names of the months in Latin, divided to 10 and subdivided to 1 day numbered by 10. The zodiac scale has the names and engraved representations of the constellations, and each sign has a scale 0 to 30 degrees, divided to 10, subdivided to 1, numbered by 10. There are two moving volvelle plates, which are used to find the time of the rising and setting of the sun. The first has a pointer, marked "INDEX SOLIS" and with a sun symbol extending across the zodiac calendar carries scales for the time and the age of the moon. The time scale has hours 1 to 12 twice, divided to 1, subdivided to 15 minutes, numbered by 1 hour, and each hour position has a point for counting in the dark (except one 12, which has the index arm). Asterisks are engraved on the points for 6, the other 12, and 6. The lunar scale runs from 0 to 29|1/2|, divided to 1, subdivided to |1/4|, numbered by 1. The inner moving plate has an index, marked "INDEX LVNAE" and with a moon symbol, and is engraved with a diagram of planetary aspects marked "ASPECTVS PLANETARVM." It is pierced to reveal on the first moveable representations of lunar phases and parts of inscriptions. A long central index arm extends beyond the limit of the base plate; around the central pivot is engraved "STELLA POLARIS PER QUAM VISVS PROIEC." The arm is marked "INDEX HORALOGII" and ":PLAVST VRSAM" and "DVAE PARILES PLAVSTRI POSTREMAE A POLARI STELLA IN RECTAM DVCTAE SOLIS INDICE AD DIEM POSITO NOCTUR HORAM OST." The handle on this side is engraved "ASTROLABII DOPSVM HORALOGIIOVE NOCTVRNALIS. OMNIA CONANDO DOCILIS SOLLERTIA VICIT." The sundial side has a Regiomontanus-type altitude dial with 2 pinhole sight vanes and a three-element articulated arm for adjusting the point of suspension of the plumb-line (the line and weight are missing) on the triangular grid of latitude and zodiacal position. The zodiacal symbols are at the top, with each sign divided by three; the latitude scale is from 5 to 60, divided to 5, 5 to 65 subdivided to 1, numbered by 5. The grid is marked on one side "ZODIACI LATITVDINVM" and on the other "ZODIACI LATITVDINVM QUAE ET POLI ELEVATIO TAM NOTII QVAM BOREI." The hour lines are numbered both 1 to 12 "HORAE ANTE MERIDIANAE" and 12 to 1 "HORAE POMERIDIANAE." There is a solar declination scale to the right of the hour lines, marked with zodiac symbols, this scale and the mid-day hour line being marked "GENERALIS ZODIACVS MERIDIANVS." The midnight line is marked "MEDIVM NOCTIS SEPTENTRIO." Around the edge of the sundial side are two altitude scales to be used with the sights and the suspension point set to a position marked "QVADRANTVM CENTRVM." The outer is a scale of degrees marked "QVADRANS ASTRONOMICVS UNIVERSALIS." The inner is a geometrical quadrant or shadow-square scale marked "QVADRANS GEOMETRICVS" and "VMBRA VERSA" and "VMBRA RECTA." Ref: "Nocturnal" in Robert Bud and Deborah Warner, eds., Instruments of Science. An Historical Encyclopedia (New York & London, 1998), p. 414-416. Harriet Wynter & Anthony Turner, eds. Scientific Instruments (New York, 1975), p. 113-117.
289-312 of 340 Resources