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Summit of the Americas 1994

National Portrait Gallery

How Scientists Resolved the Mystery of the Devil’s Corkscrews

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most unusual fossils ever to be found are strange tall structures recovered across Nebraska, primarily in the state’s northwestern badlands and in neighboring parts of Wyoming. Known locally as Devil’s Corkscrews, each structure is the infilling of a left- or right-handed spiral or helix that can extend up to seven feet into the ground. At the deep end of the spiral, a tunnel extends sideways and up at an angle. These structures became exposed by weathering of the soft rock enclosing them on the sides of bluffs or ravines. They mainly occur in the fine-grained sandstones of the Harrison Formation, which dates from the Miocene epoch and are about 20 to 23 million years old.

It was paleontologist Erwin H. Barbour who first discovered them. “Their forms are magnificent; their symmetry perfect; their organization beyond my comprehension,” he wrote.

Barbour assembled a marvelous fossil collection at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in the late 19th century. Ably assisted by his wife Margaret and with financial support from one of the university’s trustees, he built a foundational collection of fossil mammals from Nebraska, dating mostly from the Neogene, about 23 to 2.58 million years ago. Today, the University of Nebraska State Museum of Natural History is famous for its fossil treasures, which document the diversity of mammals large and small living when the grasslands of the mid-continent developed. Its most spectacular exhibition is a parade of the many extinct species of elephants that once roamed across what is today the midwestern United States.

Writing of the fossils he'd discovered, Erwin H. Barbour described their forms as "magnificent" and their symmetry "perfect." ( Wikimedia Commons)

While exploring the western part of Nebraska, Barbour collected dozens of examples of the giant spiral structures, reporting on them in 1892 and naming them Daimonelix (Greek for “devil’s screw,” often spelled Daemonelix). Their origin was a mystery and there was nothing else like them in the fossil record. After first considering them as possible remains of giant freshwater sponges, Barbour surmised that the fossils of Daimonelix were the remains of plants, possibly root systems, because he had discovered plant tissues inside the helices.

A year later, the legendary American vertebrate paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope rejected Barbour’s interpretation of the fossils, noting that “the most probable explanation of these objects seems to be that they are the casts of the burrows of some large rodent.”

In the same year, the Austrian paleontologist Theodor Fuchs, an authority on trace fossils, independently arrived at the same conclusion. He noted “thus we are justified in viewing these strange fossils as really nothing more than the underground homes of Miocene rodents, probably related to Geomys [pocket gophers].”

Known as Devil’s Corkscrews, each structure is the infilling of a left- or right-handed spiral or helix that can extend up to seven feet into the ground. At the deep end of the spiral, a tunnel extends sideways and up at an angle. ( Wikimedia Commons)

But Professor Barbour would have none of this and published a critique of Fuchs’s analysis in 1894. Assuming that the rocks of the Harrison Formation were lake deposits, Barbour commented that “Dr. Fuchs’ gopher is left to burrow and build its nest of dry hay in one or two hundred fathoms of Miocene water.” (Fuchs had doubted that the surrounding rocks were lake deposits and interpreted the plant remains found by Barbour as hay stored by the burrow-maker.)

Another American paleontologist, Olaf Peterson, collected specimens of the Devil’s Corkscrews for the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. He observed that they often contained skeletons of an ancient beaver, Palaeocastor, which was slightly larger than today’s black-tailed prairie dog. And so, Peterson supported Cope’s reinterpretation.

But Barbour vehemently defended his identification of the Devil’s Corkscrews as a kind of plant fossil. He responded to supporters of the rodent-burrow hypothesis, “If this is in truth the work of a gopher then it must stand as a lasting monument to the genius of that creature which laid the lines of his complex abode with such invariable precision and constancy.”

The Daimonelix burrow with a skeleton of its maker, the extinct beaver Palaeocaster is on view in the fossil hall at the National Museum of Natural History. (Lucia RM Martino, NMNH)

Fuchs and others interpreted strange grooves on the infillings of the burrows as claw marks left by the digging animal. In time most researchers, including Barbour’s former student and successor at the State Museum, C. Bertrand Schultz, considered the structures fossil rodent burrows.

For many years, no further research was undertaken on the identity of Daimonelix and the issue remained in a stalemate.

Enter Larry Martin, an expert on fossil mammals at the University of Kansas. In the early 1970s, Martin and his student Deb Bennett studied many of the Devil’s Corkscrews in the field and in the lab. Their research on Daimonelix, published in 1977, painted a completely new picture of these strange spiral structures and their origin.

By the time the Kansas researchers started their work, geologists had long rejected the lake deposit theory of the Harrison Formation and established that its fine-grained sediments were instead accumulated by wind under seasonally dry conditions quite similar to the prevailing conditions in western Nebraska today. These deposits not only preserved the Devil’s Corkscrews, but also abundant fossil plant roots and burrows made by insects and small mammals.

Martin and Bennett found that the incisor teeth of the extinct beaver Palaeocastor were a perfect match for the grooves on the infillings of the Devil’s Corkscrews. These tooth marks affirmed that they were, in fact, burrows, spiraling tunnels that the beaver Palaeocastor built mainly by excavating the soil with left- and right-handed strokes of its large, flat incisors. The animal also left claw marks, but they tended to be confined to the sides and bottom of the burrows. The initial burrow extended down as a tightly coiled spiral. At the bottom, the beaver started digging upwards at an angle of up to 30 degrees to create a chamber for itself. This portion of the burrow sometimes extended up to 15 feet.

The Daimonelix-building Palaeocastor sported large, flat incisors. It lived and, based on finds of bones of young beavers, raised its litters at the end of this straight chamber. The tall, tightly coiled spiral entrance forming the top portion of the burrow is now thought to be an ingenious method for helping to retain moisture and control temperature in the animal’s burrow.

Martin and Bennett found that the incisor teeth of the extinct beaver Palaeocastor were a perfect match for the grooves on the infillings of the Devil’s Corkscrews. (Olaf Peterson’s 1906 study)

Scattered clusters of the burrows of Palaeocastor are often found in great numbers. These clusters probably resembled the “towns” of present-day prairie dogs. Interestingly, other animals occasionally visited the burrows—including an extinct relative of martens and weasels, probably looking to make a meal of the burrow’s maker.

But what of the plant tissues that Barbour had discovered inside the burrows? To solve that mystery, Martin and Bennett noted that the rocks containing the Daimonelix burrows were laid down in a seasonally dry environment. Under such conditions, plants would have difficulty finding enough moisture to survive. But inside the Daimonelix tunnels there was much more humidity and moisture-seeking plants quickly grew their roots into the walls of the burrows. In fact, the growth was so abundant, the interior of the burrow walls would have to be cropped back by the beavers from time to time in order to maintain access. Since the rocks of the Harrison Formation contain a lot of ash from nearby volcanoes, rainwater flowing through the soil would become saturated with silica. Plant roots readily absorbed silica. Gradually, the root-lined walls became mineralized and eventually the entire burrow was filled in with silicified roots.

Mystery solved. What started out with the finding of curious fossils from the badlands of Nebraska led to a detailed reconstruction of an ancient ecosystem and the lives of some of its inhabitants. Every fossil carries this potential—to clue researchers into discoveries about the ancient environment and the plants and organisms that once thrived in it. As for Barbour, he apparently went to his grave denying that Daimonelix was a rodent burrow.

The Daimonelix burrow with a skeleton of its maker, the extinct beaver called Palaeocaster is on view in the new fossil hall "Deep Time" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Behavioural environments and niche construction: the evolution of dim-light foraging in bees

Smithsonian Libraries
Most bees forage for floral resources during the day, but temporal patterns of foraging activity vary extensively, and foraging in dim-light environments has evolved repeatedly. Facultative dim-light foraging behaviour is known in five of nine families of bees, while obligate behaviour is known in four families and evolved independently at least 19 times. The light intensity under which bees forage varies by a factor of 108, and therefore the evolution of dim-light foraging represents the invasion of a new, extreme niche. The repeated evolution of dim-light foraging behaviour in bees allows tests of the hypothesis that behaviour acts as an evolutionary pacemaker. With the exception of one species of Apis, facultative dim-light foragers show no external structural traits that are thought to enable visually mediated flight behaviour in low-light environments. By contrast, most obligate dim-light foragers show a suite of convergent optical traits such as enlarged ocelli and compound eyes. In one intensively studied species (Megalopta genalis) these optical changes are associated with neurobiological changes to enhance photon capture. The available ecological evidence suggests that an escape from competition for pollen and nectar resources and avoidance of natural enemies are driving factors in the evolution of obligate dim-light foraging.

The Waistcoat (Caricature on the Fashion of Waistcoats)

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
In this caricature, a man demonstrates how a waistcoat can fit around a group of much smaller men. In the background on the left is a picture of the men being wrapped in the waistcoat, and on the right is a picture of a very large man wearing it.

"The Birth of the Blues" for Levi Strauss

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
On beige ground, in black ink: “The Birth of the Blues” in a banner above; “or how the original / Shrink-to-Fit jean was / born-& all that jazz; at center a pair of blue button fly jeans. On either side scenes of history with blocks of descriptive text underneath. Logo below.

Bio Blitz! Critters of the Eastern Shore

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

by Carmen Ritter, SERC Fish & Invertebrate Ecology Lab intern  Picture that tiny town that one friend always tells you they’re from, with the single post office and the neighbors that know every detail of your personal life. Now picture that, on the water, even smaller. Welcome to Wachapreague, Virginia. Wachapreague sits on the […]

The post Bio Blitz! Critters of the Eastern Shore appeared first on Shorelines.

Finial in the form of a bird

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

As the World Warms, the Future of Skiing Looks Bleak

Smithsonian Magazine

The lodge at Bolivia’s Chacaltaya Glacier was once the world’s highest ski resort—until the glacier melted away almost entirely in just 20 years. The lodge closed its ski facilities in 2009 and stands today amid a rocky, almost snowless moonscape. Photo courtesy of Flickr user ksfc84.

As polar bears watch their winter ice recede farther and farther from boggy Arctic shores each year, skiers may notice a similar trend occurring in the high mountain ranges that have long been their wintertime playgrounds. Here, in areas historically buried in many feet of snow each winter, climate change is beginning to unfurl visibly, and for those who dream of moguls and fresh powder, the predictions of climatologists are grim: By 2050, Sierra Nevada winter snowpack may have decreased by as much as 70 percent from average levels of today; in the Rockies, the elevation of full winter snow cover may increase from 7,300 feet today to 10,300 feet by the year 2100; in Aspen, the ski season could retreat at both ends by a total of almost two months; and throughout the Western United States, average snow depths could decline by anywhere between 25 and—yep—100 percent.

These, of course, are just visions of wintertime future produced by climatologists and their computers—an easy venue for climate change naysayers to assault. In fact, a recent report commissioned by Protect Our Winters, an environmental organization, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on declining snow levels also noted that annual snowpack depth has remained stable or even increased in parts of California’s Sierra Nevada. Another study, published in January in Environmental Research Letters, foresaw similar outcomes, predicting that global warming could trigger counterintuitive winter cooling in certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere. But those findings seem tantamount to just the tip of the iceberg—which is undeniably melting. Because the thing is, global warming has already delivered serious wounds to the world’s ski industry. Europe, especially, has been hurting for years. Back in 2003, the United Nations Environmental Program reported that 15 percent of Swiss ski areas were losing business due to a lack of snow. A few years later, in 2007, one ski resort in the French Alps—Abondance—closed down entirely after a 40-year run. The closure came following a meeting of local officials, who reluctantly agreed that there simply wasn’t enough snow anymore to maintain the Abondance lodge as a ski operation. For several years, low snowfall had been attracting fewer and fewer tourists, and Abondance—once the recipient of millions of tourist Euros each year—began stagnating. The Abondance lodge and the nearby town of the same name lie at a little over 3,000 feet above sea level—low for a ski resort and, so it happens, right in the hot zone of 900 to 1,500 meters that climatologists warn is going to see the most dramatic changes in annual snowfall.

A chairlift hangs limp over a Japanese ski slope almost void of snow in December 2006. Photo courtesy of Flickr user ksfc84.

But more alarming than the Abondance shutdown is that which took place at almost six times the elevation, at Bolivia’s Chacaltaya Lodge, once famed as the highest ski resort in the world. Here, outdoorsmen came for decades to ski the Chacaltaya Glacier, which historically flowed out of a mountain valley at more than 17,000 feet. But that wasn’t high enough to escape rising temperatures. The glacier began retreating markedly several decades ago, and over a course of 20 years 80 percent of the icy river vanished. The lodge, which first opened in 1939 and was a training ground for Bolivia’s first Olympic ski team, closed in 2009.

Similar results of global warming can be expected in the American ski and snow sports industries. Already, as many as 27,000 people have lost their seasonal jobs in poor snow years in the past decade, with revenue losses as much as $1 billion, according to the recent study conducted for Protect Our Winters and NRDC. The study cites reduced snowfall and shorter winters as the culprits. In total, 212,000 people are employed in the American ski industry.

The irony of the ski industry’s impending troubles is the fact that ski resorts, equipment manufacturers and skiers themselves have played a role in fueling the fire that is melting the snows. The carbon footprint of the ski industry is a heavy one. Seventy million people visit the Alps alone each year to ski or otherwise play in the snow—and travel to and from the mountains is recognized as perhaps the most carbon-costly component of the industry. But excluding tourist travel, lodges and ski resorts are major users of energy and producers of trash. A 2003 book by Hal Clifford, Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry Is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment, details the many ecological and cultural problems associated with the skiing industry. Among these is clear-cutting to produce those dreamy treeless mountainsides that millions of downhillers long for on many a summer day. The ski resort Arizona Snowbowl, for one, was lambasted last year for plans to cut down 30,000 trees—a 74-acre grove of pines considered holy by indigenous nations. And just prior to the kickoff of the 2006 Turin Winter Games, in Italy, The Independent ran a story under the headline “Is it possible to ski without ruining the environment?” The article named “ski tourism-induced traffic pollution and increasing urban sprawl of hotels and holiday homes in former Alpine villages to the visually intrusive and habitat-wrecking ski lifts” as faults of the industry. The article continued, noting that with the “spectre of global warming … now stalking the Alps,” the ski industry of Europe “is waking up to its environmental responsibilities—just in the nick of time.”

This mountainside—part of the Arizona Snowbowl resort—bears clear-cut scars typical of mountain ski slopes. Photo courtesy of Robin Silver Photography.

Right: “Just in the nick of time.” That article came out almost seven years ago, and look where we are now. The earth, by most measures, is warmer than ever, and snow is declining. A study just published in Geophysical Research Letters reported that locations in Eurasia have set new records for lowest-ever spring snow cover each year since 2008. In North America, according to the same report, three of the last five years have seen record low snow cover in the spring. It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that commercial use of snow machines is on the rise. These draw up liquid water and blast out 5,000 to 10,000 gallons per minute as frosty white snow. It may take 75,000 gallons of water to lightly coat a 200- by 200-foot ski slope, and the energy-intensive machines have been blamed for their role in pollution and excessive water use.  And while snow machines can serve as a crutch for limping ski resorts, the snow they produce is reportedly quite crummy in quality—and they’re anything but a cure for the greater problem.

Where do you like to ski? Have you seen more exposed rocks and muddy December slopes and snow machines at work? This article offers a summary of how several major ski regions in the world will feel the heat of global warming.  Every mountain range around the world will feel the heat.

Will warmer winters mean richer skiers? In 2007, the mayor of the French Alps town of Abondance, Serge Cettour-Meunier, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Skiing is again becoming a sport for the rich,” explaining that soon only more expensive, high-elevation ski resorts would have enough snow for skiing.

In a warmer future of unyielding blue skies, snow machines like this one, at work in Norway, will be increasingly employed to produce ski-able snowpack. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rsms.

The Tower & Preparation of the Fireworks, with the Balloon in the Park

National Air and Space Museum
Colored lithograph print on paper. Caption: "The tower and preparation of the fire works, with the balloon in the park."

The Birth of Flight: NASM Collections

The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt. Enormous crowds gathered in Paris to watch one balloon after another rise above the city rooftops, carrying the first human beings into the air in the closing months of 1783.The excitement quickly spread to other European cities where the first generation of aeronauts demonstrated the wonder of flight. Everywhere the reaction was the same. In an age when men and women could fly, what other wonders might they achieve.

"Among all our circle of friends," one observer noted, "at all our meals, in the antechambers of our lovely women, as in the academic schools, all one hears is talk of experiments, atmospheric air, inflammable gas, flying cars, journeys in the sky." Single sheet prints illustrating the great events and personalities in the early history of ballooning were produced and sold across Europe. The balloon sparked new fashion trends and inspired new fads and products. Hair and clothing styles, jewelry, snuffboxes, wallpaper, chandeliers, bird cages, fans, clocks, chairs, armoires, hats, and other items, were designed with balloon motifs.

Thanks to the generosity of several generations of donors, the National Air and Space Museum maintains one of the world's great collections of objects and images documenting and celebrating the invention and early history of the balloon. Visitors to the NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport can see several display cases filled with the riches of this collection. We are pleased to provide visitors to our web site with access to an even broader range of images and objects from this period. We invite you to share at least a small taste of the excitement experienced by those who witness the birth of the air age.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Present at Creation:

The NASM Collection of Objects Related to Early Ballooning

The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt. The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel (August 26, 1740-June 26, 1810) and Jacques Etienne (January 6, 1745 - August 2, 1799), launched the air age when they flew a hot air balloon from the town square of Annonay, France, on June 4, 1783. Members of a family that had been manufacturing paper in the Ardèche region of France for generations, the Montgolfiers were inspired by recent discoveries relating to the composition of the atmosphere. Joseph led the way, building and flying his first small hot air balloons late in 1782, before enlisting his brother in the enterprise.

Impatient for the Montgolfiers to demonstrate their balloon in Paris, Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, a pioneering geologist and member of the Académie Royale, sold tickets to a promised ascension and turned the money over to Jacques Alexandre-César Charles (1746-1823), a chemical experimenter whom he had selected to handle the design, construction and launch of a balloon. Charles flew the first small hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars, near the present site of the Eiffel Tower, on August 27, 1783. Not to be outdone, the Montgolfiers sent the first living creatures (a sheep, a duck and a rooster) aloft from Versailles on September 19.

Pilatre de Rozier, a scientific experimenter, and François Laurent, the marquis D'Arlandes, became the first human beings to make a free flight on November 21. Less than two weeks later, on December 1, 1783, J.A. C. Charles and M.N. Robert made the first free flight aboard a hydrogen balloon from the Jardin des Tuileries.

A wave of excitement swept across Paris as the gaily decorated balloons rose, one after another, over the skyline of the city. Throughout the summer and fall of 1783 the crowds gathering to witness the ascents grew ever larger. As many as 400,000 people - literally half of the population of Paris -- gathered in the narrow streets around the Château des Tuileries to watch Charles and Robert disappear into the heavens.

The wealthy and fashionable set purchased tickets of admission to the circular enclosure surrounding the launch site. Guards had a difficult time restraining the crush of citizens swarming the nearby streets, and crowding the Place de Louis XV (now the Place de la Concorde) and the garden walkways leading toward the balloon. People climbed walls and clambered out of windows onto roofs in search of good vantage points.

"It is impossible to describe that moment:" wrote one observer of a balloon launch, "the women in tears, the common people raising their hands to the sky in deep silence; the passengers leaning out of the gallery, waving and crying out in joy… the feeling of fright gives way to wonder." One group of spectators greeted a party of returning aeronauts with the question: "Are you men or Gods?" In an age when human beings could fly, what other wonders might the future hold?

The balloons had an enormous social impact. The huge, seething crowds were something new under the sun. The spectators who gathered in such huge numbers were just becoming accustomed to the idea of change. The old certainties of their grandparent's world were giving way to an expectation that the twin enterprises of science and technology would provide the foundation for "progress."

The balloons sparked new fashion trends and inspired new fads and products. Hair and clothing styles, jewelry, snuffboxes, wallpaper, chandeliers, bird cages, fans, clocks, chairs, armoires, hats, and other items, were designed with balloon motifs. Party guests sipped Créme de l' Aérostatique liqueur and danced the Contredanse de Gonesse in honor of the Charles globe.

The Americans who were living in Paris to negotiate a successful conclusion to the American revolution were especially fascinated by the balloons. It seemed only fitting that, at a time when their countrymen were launching a new nation, human beings were throwing off the tyranny of gravity. The oldest and youngest members of the diplomatic community were the most seriously infected with "balloonamania."

"All conversation here at present turns upon the Balloons…and the means of managing them so as to give Men the Advantage of Flying," Benjamin Franklin informed an English friend, Richard Price. Baron Grimm, another Franklin acquaintance, concurred. "Among all our circle of friends," he wrote, "at all our meals, in the antechambers of our lovely women, as in the academic schools, all one hears is talk of experiments, atmospheric air, inflammable gas, flying cars, journeys in the sky."

Franklin noted that small balloons, made of scraped animal membranes, were sold "everyday in every quarter." He was invited to visit a friend's home for "tea and balloons," and attended a fête at which the duc de Chartres distributed "little phaloid balloonlets" to his guests. At another memorable entertainment staged by the duc de Crillon, Franklin witnessed the launch of a hydrogen balloon some five feet in diameter that kept a lantern aloft for over eleven hours.

The senior American diplomat in Paris purchased one of the small balloons as a present for his grandson and secretary, William Temple Franklin. Released in a bed chamber, "it went up to the ceiling and remained rolling around there for some time." Franklin emptied the membrane of hydrogen and forwarded it to Richard Price so that he and Sir Joseph Banks might repeat the experiment. The delightful little toy was thus not only the first balloon to be owned by an American but also the first to reach England. Both Franklins were soon supplying little balloons to friends across Europe.

Sixteen year old John Quincy Adams also took note of the small balloons offered for sale by street vendors. "The flying globes are still very much in vogue," he wrote on September 22. "They have advertised a small one of eight inches in diameter at 6 livres apiece without air [hydrogen] and 8 livres with it. .. Several accidents have happened to persons who have attempted to make inflammable air, which is a dangerous operation, so that the government has prohibited them."

There was a general sense that the colorful globes marked the beginning of a new age in which science and technology would effect startling change. The results and the implications of the revolution in physics and chemistry underway for over a century were largely unknown outside an elite circle of privileged cognoscenti. The balloon was unmistakable proof that a deeper understanding of nature could produce what looked very much like a miracle. What else was one to think of a contrivance that would carry people into the sky?

If human beings could break the age-old chains of gravity, what other restraints might they cast off? The invention of the balloon seemed perfectly calculated to celebrate the birth of a new nation dedicated, on paper at any rate, to the very idea of freedom for the individual. In the decade to come the balloons and the men and women who flew them came to symbolize the new political winds that were blowing through France. While some might question the utility of the "air globes," flight was already reshaping the way in which men and women regarded themselves and their world.

Of course most citizens of Europe and America were unable to travel to see a balloon. They had their first glimpse of the aerial craft through the medium of single sheet prints. In the late 18th century it was difficult and expensive to publish anything more than the roughest of woodcuts in newspapers or magazines. In an effort to share the excitement with those who could not attend an ascent, to let people know what a balloon looked like, and to introduce the brave men and women who were taking to the sky, artists, engravers and publishers flooded the market with scores of single sheet printed images. Ranging from the meticulously accurate to the wildly fanciful, these printed pictures were sold by the thousands in print shops across Europe.

The business of producing and marketing such images was nothing new. In Europe, block prints from woodcuts had been used to produce book illustrations and single sheet devotional or instructional religious images since the mid-15th century. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the technique was used to produce multi-sheet maps, bird's eye images of cities, and other products. In the early modern era, etching and engraving techniques enabled artists from Albrecht Dürer to Rembrandt van Rijn the opportunity to market copies of their paintings. .

In the 1730's. William Hogarth inaugurated a new era in the history of English printed pictures when he published his, "Harlot's Progress," a series of single sheet images charting the downfall of a young woman newly arrived in London. Other sets, including "Marriage à la Mode," appeared in the decade that followed. Other artists used the medium of the etching or engraving to reproduce portraits and offer examples of their work for sale.

By the late 18th century, Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray and other English artists made considerable fortunes producing sporting prints and satirical images offering biting commentary on the shortcomings of the political and social leaders of the day. Rowlandson was said to have "etched as much copper as would sheathe the British navy." In order to publish his prints and caricatures while they were still newsworthy, Rowlandson worked rapidly. He would water color the first impression, then send it to refugee French artists employed by Rudolph Ackermann, one of his favored publishers, who would color each of the prints before they were hung up in the shop window. In the 1780's a typical print seems to have sold for a shilling, the price being sometimes included on the print itself.

The appearance of the balloon in 1783 provided artists, engravers and publishers in England, France, Germany and Italy a new subject for their efforts. As the wave of balloon enthusiasm swept across the continent, the production and sale of images depicting the great flights and daring aeronauts flourished. In addition to illustrating the birth of the air age, print makers made use of balloon motifs in comic images satirizing political events or social trends.

In the 19th century new lithographic techniques and the advent of improved presses and smooth paper, led to a revolution in the ability to mass produce images. Balloons remained a common subject of interest to readers, and ready material for satire in the talented hands of artists like Honorè-Victorine Daumier.

Today, the balloon prints produced by 18th and 19th century artists remain as a priceless window into the past. They enable us to share some sense of the excitement that gripped those watching their fellow beings rise into the sky for the first time. Engraved portraits tell us something of the appearance, and even the personality, of the first men and women to fly. Satirical prints utilizing balloon motifs help us to understand the impact that flight on the first generations to experience it.

The National Air and Space Museum owes its collection of balloon prints to the generosity of several leading 20th century collectors. The bulk of the prints in our collection come from Harry Frank Guggenheim (August 23, 1890 - January 22, 1971).. The son of industrialist and philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim and his wife Florence, Harry Guggenheim enjoyed multiple careers as a business leader, diplomat, publisher, philanthropist, and sportsman.

Aviation was the thread that tied his diverse activities together. A graduate of Yale and Pembroke College, Cambridge University, he learned to fly before the U.S. entered WW I and served as a Naval aviator during that conflict and as a Naval officer during WW II. In the mid- 1920's, he convinced his father to establish the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, which had an enormous impact on aeronautical engineering and aviation in the U.S.

A collector of everything from fine art to thoroughbred horses, Guggenheim began to acquire aeronautica during the 1920's, gradually focusing his attention of aeronautical prints. His collection had grown to be one of the most complete in the world by the 1940's, when he loaned his prints to the New York museum maintained by the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences. When the IAS dissolved its museum in the 1950's, Guggenheim donated his own collection to the National Air and Space Museum.

The NASM collection of aeronautical prints also includes items donated by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and by a number of other private collectors, notably Constance Fiske in memory of her husband Gardiner Fiske, who served with the U.S. Army Air Service during WW I and with the USAAF in WWII; Thomas Knowles, a long-time executive with Goodyear Aircraft and Goodyear Aerospace; and Bella Clara Landauer, one of the great American collectors of aeronautica.

There can be little doubt that William Armistead Moale Burden was one of the most significant contributors to the NASM collection of furnishings, ceramics and other objects related to ballooning and the early history of flight. . Burden began collecting aeronautical literature and memorabilia during the 1920's, while still a Harvard undergraduate. Following graduation he rode the post-Lindbergh boom to prosperity as a financial analyst specializing in aviation securities. His business success was inextricably bound to his enthusiasm for the past, present and future of flight.

By 1939, Burden was reputed to have built a personal aeronautical library second only to that of the Library of Congress. He loaned that collection to the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, an organization that he served as president in 1949. In addition to his library of aeronautica, Burden built a world-class collection of historic objects dating to the late 18th century - desks, chairs, bureaus, sofas, mirrors, clocks, ceramics and other examples of material culture -- inspired by the first balloons and featuring balloon motifs. After a period on display in the IAS museum, William A.M. Burden's balloon-decorated furnishings and aeronautica went into insured off-site storage in 1959. A member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Mr. Burden ultimately donated his treasures to the NASM, as well.

Thanks to the efforts of these and other donors, the NASM can share one of the world's finest collections of works of art and examples of material culture inspired b y the birth of flight with our visitors. We are pleased to extend the reach of our collections to those who visit our web site. Welcome, and enjoy.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

Feeding the World in the Age of Humans

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
by Kristen Minogue Food doesn’t typically get the spotlight in talks on climate change. Even when human health enters the picture, heat waves and category 5 hurricanes often dominate coverage. But as the Earth changes, so does agriculture. That raised just one of several questions scientists wrestled with at the Smithsonian’s second climate change symposium, […]

Finial in the form of a bird

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Finial in the form of a bird

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The Marine Mammal Commission compendium of selected treaties, international agreements, and other relevant documents on marine resources, wildlife, and the environment / compiled by Richard L. Wallace

Smithsonian Libraries
"Current through 31 December 1992"--Vol. 1, p. xxvi.

"Published with the partial support of Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior."
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