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Until Now, There Was No Play Button for the Recordings Bell and Edison Made in their Lab

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s fitting that the National Museum of American History kicks off its "Year of Innovation" with an exhibition dedicated to one of the fiercest invention battles of the 19th century.

It was 1880; four years after Alexander Graham Bell had—to much fanfare—developed and launched the telephone. Since its release, the inventor had to respond to more than 600 patent challenges. So Bell would become extremely secretive, carefully protecting the information surrounding any potential new projects. His work now turned to not only the transmission of sound, but also significantly, to recording it.

That year and the next, the cautious inventor deposited three sealed aluminum boxes into a safe that was located outside the Secretary’s office at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He said it was for safekeeping, but he also wanted to prepare a careful record in case he needed to show evidence that this was his work, so nothing could be called into question.

His concern was not unwarranted. His rival Thomas Edison was competing neck-in-neck. In 1878, Edison had demonstrated the phonograph at the Smithsonian, showing that his new device could record spoken voices on tinfoil-covered cylinders.

Bell’s boxes were never retrieved or opened until 1937.  In addition to these boxes, which contained early prototypes of sound-capturing machines, he also donated hundreds of records and documents to the Institution. In 2012, one such record was ultimately played using breakthrough digital technology, revealing a sound recording that Alexander Graham Bell had successfully made of his own voice in 1885. Museum specialists and scientists later captured another 1881 recording of his father making the silly statement: “I am a graphophone and my mother was a phonograph.”

“This is like Apple vs. Microsoft and the battle of formats,” says Carlene Stephens, curator of the exhibition, “this was the leading edge technology of the 1880s.” The Smithsonian, in partnership with Carl Haber and Earl Cornell, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have managed to decode the sound from eight different records of that time, comprised of varying mediums including glass, green wax and aluminum foil.

In the new exhibit, “'Hear My Voice:’ Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound,” visitors will be able to listen to each of these recordings, which include everything from a man saying simply “barometer,” to instrumentals of the popular tunes of the day “Killarney,” and “Hot-Shot March.” They can also explore historical devices used to create these records, as well as touch 3D printed models of the actual grooves that the sound waves made on each material look and feel like.   

“Every time they use the instrument on an old record, it’s an experiment,” says Stephens, “There is no typical way of doing it.” She emphasizes the importance of these discoveries in creating the earliest “museum of voices” and providing a new way of documenting history.

As Bell says in one of his featured sound clips, “This record was made.”

"'Hear My Voice:'" Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound" is on view at the National Museum of American History through October 25, 2015.


Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention

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Untitled, Jeffrey P. Bezos

National Portrait Gallery
Born Albuquerque, New Mexico

Jeffrey P. Bezos is the founder of Amazon, a global technology company that helped revolutionize the retail industry, and Blue Origin, whose mission is to lower the cost of access to outer space with reusable launch vehicles. In 1994, after working for several years as a computer scientist on Wall Street, Bezos developed the business plan for, an online bookseller. Today, in addition to selling hundreds of millions of items, the company streams movies and TV shows on Prime Video, and provides cloud-computing infrastructure through Amazon Web Services. Amazon also created the Kindle, Fire TV, and Echo devices, as well as the Alexa voice recognition service. Bezos was named Time maga- zine’s Person of the Year in 1999. He has owned the Washington Post since 2013. The artist Robert McCurdy, who based this portrait on a photograph of Bezos, worked over a period of eighteen months to portray the subject in such meticulous detail.

Nacido en Albuquerque, Nuevo México

Jeffrey P. Bezos es el fundador de Amazon, compañía tecnológica global que revolucionó el comercio al detal, y Blue Origin, dedicada a reducir el costo del acceso al espacio con cohetes de transporte reuti- lizables. En 1994, tras varios años como científico de computadoras en Wall Street, Bezos desarrolló el plan comercial para, una tienda de libros por internet. Hoy, además de vender millones de artículos, la compañía ofrece streaming de películas y programas televisivos en Prime Video, así como infraestructura de computación en nube mediante Amazon Web Services. Amazon creó los dispositivos Kindle, Fire TV y Echo, además del servicio de reconocimiento de voz Alexa. Bezos fue seleccionado Persona del Año 1999 por la revista Time. Es dueño del Washington Post desde 2013. l artista Robert McCurdy se basó en una foto de Bezos para crear este retrato de gran minuciosidad, en el cual trabajó 18 meses.

Up in Smoke

Smithsonian Magazine

In Brazil, the Amazon rain forest extends across 1.3 million square miles—and yet patches of land measuring just 386 square miles might be the best hope for ensuring the survival of the vast ecosystem, one of the world's largest and most diverse.

The site is home to the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP), operated jointly by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research. For nearly 30 years, scientists and students at BDFFP have been gathering crucial data on the environmental impact of farming, logging and human settlements. Now, however, the study area is threatened by those very same activities. "It would be tragic to see a site that's given us so much information be lost so easily," says William Laurance, a STRI biologist who has been working on the project for 12 years. Originally slated to run until 1999, the project is still flourishing.

At issue is the perennial conflict between natural conservation and economic development. The research site is located within the Agricultural District of the Manaus Free Trade Zone, which the Brazilian government established in 1967 to attract commerce to the region. The agency that manages the zone, SuperintendÍncia da Zona Franca de Manaus (SUFRAMA), recently announced plans for at least six colonization projects that would relocate 180 families in an area that encompasses the research site.

It's an especially bitter turn of events for the scientists, whose research plots have already been subjected to raids, equipment theft and burning by colonists for the much desired commodity, charcoal.

Laurance and his colleagues have focused their studies on what is known as "forest fragmentation." Rain forest clearing does not occur in one clean sweep; rather, it is a patchwork of encroachments that create oases of near pristine forest. The question is how large these forest fragments have to be in order to sustain their delicate ecosystems. Finding an answer could prove vital in planning development projects that would allow for human settlement without unnecessarily destroying swaths of forest.

The researchers cleared the surrounding areas to create patches ranging from 2.5 to 250 acres. By comparing data from each plot before and after it was isolated, scientists have found that the larger the fragment, the better. If it's too small, the entire ecosystem unravels: drying winds penetrate the interior, killing trees. Animals suffer too. In a recently completed study of bird extinction patterns, the researchers found that fragments less than 250 acres lose half of the bird species in the forest's interior within 15 years. That loss is too rapid for bird populations to recover.

Such findings argue against settling the area, environmental advocates say. Claude Gascon of Conservation International acknowledges that the Brazilian government is "within its mandate to use land for economic development" but believes it "should align [its] policies with what scientific results have shown." For its part, the Brazilian agency behind the settlement move, SUFRAMA, stresses that it conducted an environmental survey in 2004, and that it is "only the initial stage of a wide-ranging implementation process." SUFRAMA also contends that it "has striven to give its full support to the work of research institutions" in the area. Smithsonian's Laurance disagrees. He says the agency's proposed incursion into the research area ignores the findings of its own study.

The scientists are now enlisting the help of sympathetic agencies such as the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. Laurance emphasizes there is little to be gained by colonization, as the Amazon's low-quality soil makes for poor agriculture. "The social and economic benefits are paltry relative to the scientific and conservation benefits," he says.

Up-Close and Personal With Chicago's Most Infamous Criminals

Smithsonian Magazine

The photography archive of the Chicago Tribune lives five stories underground, beneath the Tribune Tower on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Many of the photo negatives stored there have, for all intents and purposes, been forgotten to history—printed once, maybe a century ago, and then filed away in envelopes sometimes labeled in pencil with a date and subject, or sometimes not labeled at all. The negatives, 4x5 glass plates or acetate negatives, come from a speed graphic camera—the world's first press camera, forever immortalized in film and popular culture by its slightly-cumbersome box shape and large flash bulb. But for all its drawbacks—weight, size, balance—the speed graphic camera was the first to allow photographers the mobility needed to capture scenes in the field, as they unfolded. For photographers working in Chicago through the early and mid-20th century, there was perhaps no beat more intriguing than the city's bustling criminal underbelly. 


Gangsters & Grifters: Classic Crime Photos from the Chicago Tribune

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When Tribune photo editors Erin Mystkowski, Marianne Mather and Robin Daughtridge set out to catalog the archive's vast expanse of 4x5 negatives, they weren't necessarily looking for just crime photos. First, they simply wanted to get through the archive—cataloging 60,000 of the more than 300,000 negatives kept in storage—in order to merely get an idea of what was there. What was there, it turned out, was a lot of vintage crime photographs—some of which had never been seen outside of the walls of the Tribune. Together, the editors researched the photographs origins alongside the stories that they told—who was Moonshine Mary? Who were the "hoodlum" or "holdup man" mentioned in the caption? After careful vetting, they compiled a collection of vintage crime photos, ranging in date from the early 1900s to the 1950s, into the book Gangsters and Grifters: Classic Crime Photos from the Chicago Tribune. The book is a remarkable testament to a bygone era of photojournalism—one when photographers enjoyed unbarred access to crime scenes and courtrooms. As such, the photographs stun in their intimacy with the grotesque—some of the book's most profound photos are close-up shots of corpses, slumped behind the wheel of a car or strewn on the ground after an outburst of mob violence. The photos depict the other side of the process as well—policemen examining evidence, searching underwater for a murder weapon or testing the new technology of a bulletproof shield by unloading a pistol at the shield's inventor.

"The access in these photos is really astounding and so far different from what we’re used to today. The evolution of ethics—both on the part of the police force and journalists—has evolved so much," Mystkowski says. "In the book, you'll see photos of officers holding up a sheet so they can show the body at the crime scene. That's a kind of photo that we would never be allowed to take, and if a photo like that were taken now, we would never run it. Back then, there was a different attitude of what journalism meant—what it meant to tell a story."

Such free access wasn't the particular luxury of photojournalists, however—everyone had amazing access to crime scenes and even corpses. One particularly fascinating photograph in the book shows the body of John Dillinger, Public Enemy Number One at the time of his death in 1934, outstretched at the Cook County Morgue. Behind a glass barrier stand two women—in bathing suits—leaning against the glass, mere inches from Dillinger's rigid body. "That particular photo has a very interesting background story," says Mather. "It was taken at the Cook County Morgue, and they actually had a big problem—the police officers weren't policing the body, so people were walking in and touching his body and even making death masks of his face with no authorization. There were hundreds of people lined up outside of the morgue to see the body of Public Enemy Number One...I think it's so interesting that there wasn't any quarantining or setting up police tape at that time."

But Mather and Mystkowski's favorite photograph is neither of a corpse nor of a crime scene—it's of a young beer runner named Al Brown being led into court. "It's not one of the best particular photos, but it's the process of how we found it that made it really exceptional to me," Mather says. "We had done a lot of crime research, and we were looking up things for Prohibition, and this [particular photo] was labeled 'Beer runner, Al Brown.' It looked kind of boring when we held it up to the light, before we scanned it in, but I thought that I would just scan it in anyway, to see what it looked like. When it came to life on the computer screen, we realized 'This is Al Capone.' Because we weren't looking for it, we didn’t realize what we had."

Al Capone, who went by the alias Al Brown, being led into criminal court. This photograph is undated. (Chicago Tribune)

When asked if in modern day photojournalism—with its stringent ethics and focus on privacy—photography has lost anything, both Mather and Mystkowski pause. "We love these photos because of the access that we don’t have now: the courtroom scenes of the wailing wives as their husbands are getting sentenced to death, we don’t see that same emotion these days—or we see it in different ways," says Mather. Mystkowski agrees. "Part of what makes these photographs so fascinating is that they are a glimpse into these really harsh moments in someone's life. It can be the crime scene, which is gory and difficult to look at, or it can be an emotional reaction to it, but it does have this immediacy that is sometimes hard to achieve nowadays, for better or for worse."

Up-to-date flying machine : waltz song & chorus / words & music by Geo. C. Davis ; [arr. by Wm. J. Carle]

Smithsonian Libraries
For voice and piano.

Illustrated t.p. depicts a group of men and women on board a flying machine in flight. Behind them are clouds, Saturn, and a smiling crescent moon. Signed "Starmer".

Publisher's advertisements at bottom of p. 2-5 for songs: Emerald my Irish jewel / by Harry Wellmon. By the light of the moon / by Raymond A. Brown & Alfred J. Doyle ; sung with immense success by Geo. H. Primrose. Down on the Amazon / by Billy Johnson. Money was made for coons to spend / words & music by Harry Wellmon. Publisher's advertisement on verso of p. 5 has list of vocal and instrumental music, captioned "Dealers, Teachers and Musical People ...": In summertime down by the sea / words by Harry Lester ; music by Alfred J. Doyle. By the light of the moon / by Raymond A. Browne and Alfred J. Doyle. For old Virginia's sake / by Sam Ehrlich and Alfred J. Doyle. In those happy autumn days / by Fenelon E. Dowling and Mary Dowling Sutton. Down on the Amazon / by Billy Johnson. When I was a barefoot boy / by Brennan and Story. Miss Hannah Lee / by Nathan Bivins. My star of Zanzibar / by Fenelon E. Dowling and Mary Dowling Sutton. I love you, honey / by Ed. Rogers and Arthur M. Cohen. Emerald, my Irish jewel / by Lawrence Borie and Harry Wellmon. Dear little Arab of Timbuctoo / by Fenelon E. Dowling and Mary Dowling Sutton. The sun shines on no sweeter girl for me ; You'll always be the only girl for me / by Geo. D. Sutton and Mary Dowling Sutton. In my home in old New England long ago / by Fenelon E. Dowling. Chipeta / by Fenelon E. Dowling and Harry S. Marion. You am de best soap bubble dat I knows ; My Mabel of Mulberry Bend / by Fenelon E. Dowling. Does this train go to heaven / by Sam Bullock and Lewiston Isaacs. Money was made for coons to spend / by Harry Wellmon. Trixie from Dixie / by Sam Ehrlich and Arthur M. Cohen. It was summertime in Dixieland : song and chorus / by Edwin Kendall. Little Japan : song and chorus / by Louis Jacobson. Your mother : a most beautiful home ballad / by J.T. Rider. The double nine 9-9 : fire patrol march and two step / by Alfred J. Doyle. Blush of the rose : caprice / by Arthur M. Cohen. The American girl : waltzes / by Mary Dowling Sutton. No name : two step / by Edwin Dicey. Night owls : march and two step / by M.A. Dennison. My Alabama queen : march / by E.S. Phelps. Mid shot and shell : march and two step / by Ernest Erdmann. Pleasant hours : caprice / by Nat Rothman. A hot old time in Dixie : characteristic cake walk and two step / by Nat Rothman. The belle of the South : march and two step. Sapphire waltz : easy teaching piece / by Charlie Baker.

Also available online.

2 other copies in Landauer collection.


Urera sp.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Urera sp.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Uroderma bilobatum bilobatum

NMNH - Vertebrate Zoology - Mammals Division

Utricularia gibba L.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Valve Clearance Gauge, Lockheed Sirius "Tingmissartoq", Lindbergh

National Air and Space Museum
Valve Clearance Gauge from a tool kit containing various tools used in the Atlantic flight including: pliers, wrenches, chisel, file, stone, hacksaw blades, screw driver, valve clearance gauge, wire and spark plug wrench and handle.

This valve clearance gauge was among the tools Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, took on their 1933 survey flights across the North and South Atlantic. They brought many other tools as well (and even purchased some along the way) since they had to conduct several maintenance tasks everyday to keep their airplane running properly.

In December 1933, during the latter part of their trip, the Lindberghs made several unsuccessful takeoff attempts for their flight from Africa to South America as calm winds and seas would not allow their heavily loaded plane to rise. This valve clearance gauge was among the tools and supplies they removed and shipped home from Bathurst, Gambia so they could lighten their load and continue.

A vacation flight with "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." So Charles A. Lindbergh described the flight that he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were planning to make to the Orient in 1931. Their choice of route, however, showed the feasibility of using the great circle to reach the Far East.

The Lindberghs flew in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane, powered by a 680-hp Wright Cyclone. The Sirius had been designed in 1929 by John K. Northrop and Gerard Vultee, and this model was specially fitted with Edo floats, since most of the Lindberghs flight was to be over water.

Their route took them from North Haven, Maine, to Ottawa, Moose Factory, Churchill, Baker Lake, and Aklavik, all in Canada; Point Barrow, Shismaref, and Nome, Alaska; Petropavlosk. Siberia; and on over the Kurile Islands to Japan. After receiving an enthusiastic welcome in Tokyo, they flew to China. They landed on Lotus Lake near Nanking on September 19, thus completing the first flight from the West to the East by way of the North.

At Hankow, the Sirius, with the Lindberghs aboard, was being lowered into the Yangtze River from the British aircraft carrier Hermes, when the aircraft accidentally capsized. One of the wings was damaged when it hit a ship's cable, and the aircraft had to be returned to the United States for repairs.

Their next venture in the Sirius came as a result of the five countries' interest in the development of commercial air transport. In 1933 Pan American Airways, Imperial Airways of Great Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, KLM of Holland, and Air France undertook a cooperative study of possible Atlantic routes. Each was assigned the responsibility for one of the following areas: New Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland; Newfoundland via the great circle route to Ireland; Newfoundland southeast to the Azores and Lisbon; Miami, Bermuda, the Azores, and Lisbon; and across the South Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to Cape Verde, Africa.

Pan American was to survey the Newfoundland to Europe via Greenland route. Ground survey and weather crews in Greenland were already hard at work when Lindbergh, Pan Am's technical advisor, took off from New York on July 9 in the rebuilt Lockheed Sirius, again accompanied by his wife, who would serve as copilot and radio operator. A Sperry artificial horizon and a directional gyro had been added to the instrument panel since the previous flight, and a new Wright Cyclone SR1820-F2 engine of 710 horsepower was installed. Lindbergh's plan was not to set up a particular route but to gather as much information as possible on the area to be covered.

The Jellinge, a Danish ship, was chartered by Pan Am to maintain radio contact with the Lindberghs in the Labrador-Greenland-Iceland area. The ship also delivered advance supplies for them to Halifax, Saint John's, Cartwright, Greenland, and Iceland.

Every possible space in the aircraft was utilized, including the wings and floats, which contained the gasoline tanks. There was plenty of emergency equipment in case the Lindberghs had to make a forced landing in the frozen wilderness.

From New York, the Lindberghs flew up the eastern border of Canada to Hopedale, Labrador. From Hopedale they made the first major overwater hop, 650 miles to Godthaab, Greenland, where the Sirius acquired its name-Tingmissartoq, which in Eskimo means "one who flies like a big bird."

After crisscrossing Greenland to Baffin Island and back, and then on to Iceland, the Lindberghs proceeded to the major cities of Europe and as far east as Moscow, down the west coast of Africa, and across the South Atlantic to South America, where they flew down the Amazon, and then north through Trinidad and Barbados and back to the United States.

They returned to New York on December 19, having traveled 30,000 miles to four continents and twenty-one countries. The information gained from the trip proved invaluable in planning commercial air transport routes for the North and South Atlantic.

The aircraft was in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City until 1955. The AirForce Museum in Dayton, Ohio, then acquired it and transferred it to the Smithsonian in 1959.

Varronia dichotoma Ruiz & Pav.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Varronia dichotoma Ruiz & Pav.

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Vatairea sericea

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Vegetable Preserve In Roll

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
No catalog card found in card file
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