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Remembering Mary Tyler Moore and Her Groundbreaking Sitcom That Almost Wasn't

Smithsonian Magazine

On September 19, 1970, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” premiered: a mainstream sitcom about women in the workplace that millions of Americans could relate too. Today, its star, a feminist icon in her own right, Mary Tyler Moore, died. She was 80 years old.

Though “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ran for seven season and became one of the most decorated shows of all time, it almost didn’t make it past its first season. The reason was because of its time slot, explains Jennifer Keishin Armstrong in her definitive book on the seriesMary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.

The show, Armstrong writes, was initially slated to run on Tuesday nights on CBS. The competitive lineup would have spelled doom for the fledgling sitcom. But then, CBS’ head of programming Fred Silverman got his hand on the pilot. What happened next changed the show's fate. Silverman was so impressed that after he finished screening the episode, he immediately called up his boss. “You know where we’ve got it on the schedule? It’s going to get killed there, and this is the kind of show we’ve got to support,” he said, as Armstrong reports.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” got moved to Saturdays at 9:30, and the rest was history.

It's not hard to see why the pilot episode had Silverman hooked. Just take the scene where Moore's character, Mary Richards, gets hired as an associate producer for a Minneapolis television station—it's one of the most famous job interviews in television history.

During it, news producer Lou Grant (a loveable Ed Asner), gives Richards a hard look. “You know what? You’ve got spunk,” he says, grudgingly.

Moore, wearing a long brown wig to differentiate herself from the character she played on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” nods, graciously. “Well, yes.”

Grant’s face then does a 180. “I hate spunk,” he says, his eyes bugging out.

The scene is played for laughs, but it also served as an important mission statement for what “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” would be. In its 24-minute pilot, the show set itself up to tell the story of a 30-something single woman in the workplace with unapologetic “spunk.”

The last episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” aired seven years later on March 19, 1977. Fittingly called “The Last Show” it serves as a poignant way to say goodbye to Moore today. After her character turns off the lights in the newsroom for the last time at the end of the episode, the entire cast comes on for the show’s first and only curtain call.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” an announcer tells the Hollywood studio audience to thunderous, poignant applause. “For the last time, Mary Tyler Moore.”

New Calculations Reposition the Geographical Center of North America

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1928, a U.S. Geological Survey mathematician determined the geographic center of North America by balancing a cardboard cutout of the continent with a pin stuck through it on his finger, reports April Baumgarten at Forum New Service. His result, reports Baumgarten, was an area roughly six miles west of the tiny town of Balta, North Dakota, which is 16 miles southwest of Rugby—the town that claimed the title. And in 1931, the community erected a monument, declaring itself the “Geographical Center of North America,” and joining a list of roadside attractions.

But Steph Yin at The New York Times reports that Rugby’s claim to fame may belong to another. Peter Rogerson, geography professor at the University of Buffalo, created a method for determining geographic centers. When he applied his method to North America, he found is that the geographic center of the continent actually lies 145 miles southwest.

“When I ran my computer program and looked at the final latitude and longitude, I was astounded to see that it was in a place called Center,” Rogerson tells Yin.

Rick Schmidt, the Extension agent based in Oliver County, where Center is located, was shocked by the news. “I am not sure that being the center of North America has really set in yet,” he tells Baumgarten. “I would say that it is fun to be the center of attention.”

Rogerson’s pronouncement puts to rest a controversy that has been simmering in North Dakota for the last couple years. James MacPherson at the Associated Press, reports that in 2015 the patrons of Hanson’s Bar in Robinson, North Dakota, 85 miles south of Rugby, collected $350 and bought the trademark for the phrase “Geographical Center of North America,” which Rugby had let lapse in 2009.

Bill Bender, mayor of Robinson and one of the bar's many owners tells MacPherson that “barstool science” validates the town’s claim since global warming has melted arctic sea ice, pushing North America south until the geographic center of the continent ended up smack-dab in the center of Hanson’s 45-foot long bar. ‘We're pretty confident if you come in and have a beer you’ll see we can very well make the case,” Bender tells MacPherson.

Rogerson’s methods, however, more compelling. Yin explains that the professor uses what's called an azimuthal equidistant map projection. There are a range of different methods to project a curved object on a flat surface, but Rogerson's method specializes in accuracy of positioning in the central region, Yin writes, "at the expense of shape and size toward its edges. (Think of the flag of the United Nations, centered on the North Pole.)" 

Even so, the USGS has no official definition of a geographic center and no agreed upon method for determining it, Yin reports. And the current center does not include islands in the Caribbean, which are part of North America. There is also no particularly compelling scientific reason to calculate or debate the point. It's more of a matter of civic pride than scientific advancement, Rogerson tells Baumgarten.

Bender says that while he respects Rogerson’s work, his town is going to continue to push its claim as the geographic center—and in August will hold what it hopes is the first of many CenterFest celebrations.

How Maps Shaped Shakespeare

Smithsonian Magazine

William Shakespeare knew his way around a map—just look at how King Lear divides his kingdom into three parts, creating chaos while he pursues his “darker purpose.” But what did the world look like when the Bard still walked the earth? An exhibition at the Boston Public Library celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death through historical maps. The play might be the thing for Shakespeare, but these maps, Linda Poon reports for CityLab, shed light on the playwright’s unique perspective and how he created drama for 16th-century theatergoers.

Shakespeare Here and Everywherewhich can be viewed at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library through February 26, 2017, uses maps to show how Shakespeare thought of far-off worlds. Though he was based in England, the Bard often used foreign settings to create exotic stories—and thanks to the development of maps and atlases during his era, he was able to elevate what amounted to armchair traveling into fine art.

International travel was treacherous and expensive during Shakespeare’s day, so it’s not surprising that neither he nor many of his contemporaries ever left England. But in a time before TV or the internet, maps were a source not just of coveted information, but of entertainment. As the British Museum notes, to own or look at a map meant the viewer was literally worldly, and atlases and wall maps were used not as ways of navigating places most people would never encounter, but as symbols of education and adventure.

Can’t make it to Boston? Do some armchair traveling of your own: You can view the maps in the exhibition on the library’s website. Or explore the locales mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays with Shakespeare on the Map, a project that uses Google Maps to show how the playwright used location.

Editor's note, December 6, 2016: The piece has been updated to reflect that the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is an independent organization located at the Boston Public Library.

Dielectric properties of lava flows west of Ascraeus Mons, Mars

Smithsonian Libraries
The SHARAD instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detects subsurface interfaces beneath lava flow fields northwest of Ascraeus Mons. The interfaces occur in two locations; a northern flow that originates south of Alba Patera, and a southern flow that originates at the rift zone between Ascraeus and Pavonis Montes. The northern flow has permittivity values, estimated from the time delay of echoes from the basal interface, between 6.2 and 17.3, with an average of 12.2. The southern flow has permittivity values of 7.0 to 14.0, with an average of 9.8. The average permittivity values for the northern and southern flows imply densities of 3.7 and 3.4 g cm(-3), respectively. Loss tangent values for both flows range from 0.01 to 0.03. The measured bulk permittivity and loss tangent values are consistent with those of terrestrial and lunar basalts, and represent the first measurement of these properties for dense rock on Mars. Citation: Carter, L. M., B. A. Campbell, J.W. Holt, R.J. Phillips, N.E. Putzig, S. Mattei, R. Seu, C. H. Okubo, and A. F. Egan (2009), Dielectric properties of lava flows west of Ascraeus Mons, Mars, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L23204, doi: 10.1029/2009GL041234.

Remarkable lightning photographs

Smithsonian Libraries

The sun and the welfare of man

Smithsonian Libraries
Also available online.


Copy 1 (STRI) 7715.

8 ways in which the American with Disabilities Act changed everyone's lives

National Museum of American History

Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman's Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum's disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. 

The American Disabilities Act, signed in the White House on July 26, 1990, was groundbreaking for people with disabilities. But it was also groundbreaking for all American people, as it attempted to prevent the discrimination against people with disabilities that prevented them from having the full rights of citizenship. It gave people with disabilities rights for which many thousands had been fighting for decades. The disability-rights movement was a grassroots movement, and in many ways it culminated with the signing of this Act. It is the first comprehensive list of laws specifically addressing the rights of people with disabilities. It radically challenged old, discriminatory laws, and touched almost every area of society, as transportation and employment policies were updated. For the first time in history, the United States government officially defined the rights of people with disabilities. It ultimately changed the way America viewed people with disabilities as a whole.

Blue and white symbol, person in wheelchair

Before the American Disabilities Act was signed:

  1. People using wheelchairs who wanted to ride a bus or train would need to abandon their wheelchairs.
  2. A restaurant could refuse to serve a person with disabilities. 
  3. A grocery store could prevent a disabled person from buying the goods there.
  4. If a person in a wheelchair could actually physically enter a library, he or she might not be able to check out library books, because of the wheelchair.

“I can’t even get to the back of the bus”; ADAPT activists protesting for accessible transportation, Philadelphia, 1990

  1. "Homosexuals" could be considered disabled. There was no previous legal definition of disability and homosexuality was considered a disease until 1973.
  2. Any place of employment could refuse to hire a person just because of his/her disability.
  3. A person with disabilities could legally be paid less just because of his/her disability, even if he or she was doing the same work as another person.
  4. Because the restrooms on trains were not accessible, people often had to wear precautionary diapers when they traveled.

Photograph of train car and platform. Women with cane standing at car entrance. Yellow detectable warnings strip in front of her.

Want to learn more? Here's a short list of new laws initiated by the ADA:

  • Section 12132 of this title and section 79 of title 29, it shall be considered discrimination for a public entity to fail to have at least 1 vehicle per train that is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, as soon as practicable but in no event later than the last day of the 5-year period beginning on the effective date of this section.
  • General rule. No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.
  • Homosexuality and bisexuality. For purposes of the definition of "disability" in section 12102(2) of this title, homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this chapter.
  • General rule. No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
  • General rule. No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

You can find the full text of the ADA here.

Samantha Lombard is an undergraduate History and Art History Major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

By Samantha Lombard, student, American Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Ashes to Ashes (Burn for Burn Trilogy 3) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
“The idea for the Burn for Burn trilogy began over cupcakes, as the best ideas usually do,” the back cover...

Your Turn, My Turn

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
The idiosyncratic graphic designer April Greiman designed the poster Your Turn, My Turn for a 1983 symposium in Los Angeles, California. The conference aimed to discuss the roles of artists, designers, and architects within the field of design and possibilities for multidisciplinary collaboration.[1] In deference to the conference’s ambitions, Greiman embraces innovation and freedom in...

The Unlikely Bromance Between Henry Ford and Mohandas Gandhi

Smithsonian Magazine

A letter and a spinning wheel were the basis of a friendship between American car pioneer Henry Ford and Mohandas Gandhi, leader of a non-violent resistance movement in India against British rule.

On this day in 1941, Ford wrote to Gandhi. “You are one of the greatest men the world has ever known,” he wrote in the brief letter. “May God help you and guide your lofty work.” In return, Gandhi sent Ford his portable spinning wheel.  The relationship between two men from such different worlds might seem surprising, until you realize that they were united behind one aim: peace.

But Ford's pacifism stemmed from a grim place. He was an anti-Semite. Years before he wrote to Gandhi, he was publishing an anti-Semitic newsletter, The International Jew,  which inspired Hitler in forming his racist and delusional theories.

Ford opposed the United States entering World War I, and even financed the ill-fated Peace Ship, a vessel that carried a group of activists to Europe in 1915 in an attempt to work things out between the warring nations. By the time the ship reached its destination of Oslo, passengers had been stricken by a flu, and the mission was a wash, writes Garrett Fisk for Military History of the Upper Great Lakes.

Ford “believed that war was solely a means of profiteering for the people who stood to make money from the conflict,” Fisk writes. For Ford, that meant Jews. He believed that Jewish-owned businesses stood to reap financial gain from war, and opposed wars on those grounds.

When World War II started, Ford opposed the United States joining on the grounds of his own racist brand of pacifism. By the time he sent the letter, writes, he had “reluctantly bowed” to government pressure and opened the massive Willow Run plant to manufacture B-24E bombers for the Allies–putting him in the position of making money from war. (Ford’s company also produced war vehicle parts during World War I, though on a smaller scale.)

Gandhi, who also flirted with anti-Semitism, didn’t actually get Ford’s letter until December 8, 1941, writes– the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, throwing the United States into war. The spinning wheel, called a charkha, that he sent back was one of the ones he used to make his own cloth, symbolizing his economic independence from British colonial rulers. The charkha was a symbol of Gandhi’s movement and India’s greater independence from Britain. Gandhi, who writes was “greatly pleased,” signed the gift in both Hindi and English. It travelled 12,000 miles back to Ford in Greenfield Village, Michigan, reaching him in December 1942.

“Ford kept it as a good luck charm,” writes  Today it sits in the Henry Ford Museum. It's a symbol of a complicated time in history, before the full horrors of the Holocaust were known, when two men with complicated ideologies tried to connect.

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