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"Combing" Through Light May Give Us Faster, More Powerful Internet

Smithsonian Magazine

Fiber optic cables make up the backbone of modern communications, carrying data and phone calls across countries and under oceans. But an ever-expanding demand for data—from streaming movies to Internet searches—is putting pressure on that network, because there are limits to how much data can be pushed through the cables before the signal degrades, and new cables are expensive to build.

Now a team at the University of California, San Diego, might have a solution by borrowing a technique used in other fields as a measurement tool: the frequency comb. These laser-based devices allowed the team to remove distortions that would usually appear before the signal got to the end of a cable. The researchers sent data further than ever before—7,456 miles—without the need to boost the signal along the way.

If their experimental technique holds up in the real world, fiber optic cables would need fewer expensive repeaters to keep signals strong. In addition, greater signal stability within a data stream would mean more channels could be stuffed into a single transmission. Right now, a fundamental trade-off in fiber optics is the more data you want to transmit, the shorter the distance you can send it.

Fiber optic signals are simply encoded light, either generated by a laser or an LED. This light travels down thin glass cables, reflecting off their inside surfaces until it comes out the other end. Just like radio broadcasts, a laser beam will have a certain bandwidth, or range of frequencies, it covers, and a typical strand of fiber optic cable can carry more than one bandwidth channel.

But the signals can't travel forever and still be decoded due to so-called non-linear effects, specifically the Kerr effect. For fiber optics to work, the light inside the fiber has to refract, or bend, a certain amount as it travels. But electric fields will alter how much glass bends light, and light itself generates a small electric field. The change in refraction means that there are small changes in the wavelength of the transmitted signal. In addition, there are small irregularities in the glass of the fiber, which isn't an absolutely perfect reflector.

The small wavelength changes, called jitter, add up and cause cross-talk between the channels. The jitter appears random because a fiber optic transmission carries dozens of channels, and the effect on each channel is a bit different. Since the Kerr effect is non-linear, mathematically speaking, if there's more than one channel you can't just subtract it—the calculation is much more complex and nearly impossible for today's signal processing equipment. That makes the jitters hard to predict and correct.

"We realized that the fuzziness, ever so slight, causes the whole thing to appear as though it is not deterministic," says Nikola Alic, a research scientist from the Qualcomm Institute at UCSD and one of the leaders of the experimental work.

In the current fiber optics setup, channel frequencies have to be far enough apart that jitter and other noise effects don’t make them overlap. Also, because the jitter increases with distance, adding more power to the signal only amplifies the noise. The only way to deal with it is to put costly devices called repeaters on the cable to regenerate the signal and clean up the noise—a typical transatlantic cable has repeaters installed every 600 miles or so, Alic said, and you need one for each channel.

The UCSD researchers wondered whether they could find a way to make jitter look less random. If they knew exactly how much the wavelength of light in every channel would change, then they could compensate for it when the signal got to a receiver. That's where the frequency comb came in. Alic says the idea came to him after years of working in related fields with light. “It was sort of a moment of clarity,” he says. A frequency comb is a device that generates laser light at lots of very specific wavelengths. The output looks like a comb, with each "tooth" at a given frequency and each frequency an exact multiple of the adjacent ones. The combs are used in building atomic clocks, in astronomy and even in medical research.

Alic and his colleagues decided to find out what would happen if they used a frequency comb to calibrate the outgoing fiber optic signals. He likens it to a conductor tuning an orchestra. “Think of the conductor using a tuning fork to tell everyone what the middle A is,” he says. The team built simplified fiber optic systems with three and five channels. When they used the comb to calibrate the outgoing signal wavelengths, they still found jitter, but this time, all the channels were jittering in the same way. That regularity allowed the signal to be decoded and sent at a record distance with no repeaters. “It makes the process deterministic,” says Alic, whose team reports the results this week in Science.  

Sethumadhavan Chandrasekhar, distinguished member of the technical staff at the global telecom company Alcatel-Lucent, is one of many scientists who have been working on the fiber optic jitter problem for a number of years. His published work involves transmitting phase-conjugated signals—two signals that are exactly 180 degrees out of phase with each other. This setup means that any of the nonlinear effects that cause noise would be canceled out.

The UCSD work is important, but it isn't a complete solution yet, Chandrasekhar says. "What is missing is that most systems now have dual polarization," he says, meaning that the systems boost capacity by sending light signals that are polarized differently. "Most systems today transmit information in the two polarization states of light, and the UCSD team needs to demonstrate that their technique works as well under such a transmission scenario," he says.

Alic says that the team's next set of experiments will address that very issue. So far, they think this technique can be adapted for real-world use, though it will require building and deploying new hardware, which will take time. Either way, increasing the reach of signals will allow for a much more aggressive build-out, yielding more data and more distance without worries over signal loss. "There's no reason to be afraid anymore," he says.

"I’ve Got a Friend in Chicago"

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Students will listen to, analyze, and perform music created by children in the United States and for children by American folk artists.In addition, students will record their own games, songs, and chants.

"Love Is the Thing to Make it Fall": African-American Music in Alabama before and during the Civil Rights Movement

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
This set of lessons is an introduction to African-American music in Alabama through children’s songs of the 1950s as well as freedom songs of the 1960s. In addition to attentive listening, students will sing, play instruments, improvise, move, and play games.

'Pardon This Interruption�_�Columbus Has Landed!!!'

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students create a public service announcement using the theme of colliding cultures in North America.

10 Must-Do Experiences in Australia’s Northern Territory

Smithsonian Magazine

Sunset lingers on the still waters of the Yellow Water Billabong as an evening cruise glides past water lilies slowly closing their vibrant blooms for the night. Gazing out at this tranquil view, you can almost forget how just a few days before, standing on the bow of a similar boat on the Adelaide River, you watched with heart-pounding glee as a 20-foot crocodile launched itself vertically out of the water.

Australia’s Northern Territory, a 520,902 square mile area spanning the tropical shores of the north to the arid desert of the country's Red Center, packs beauty and adventure into every turn. Waterfalls tumble into crystal plunge pools, wallabies dart through monsoon forests and star trails glimmer over Aboriginal rock art sites dating back up to 50,000 years.

On the coast, open-air markets take over Darwin’s beaches and indigenous guides teach visitors Aboriginal art on the Tiwi Islands.

With so much to see, you need a few places to start. Here are ten experiences you can't miss:

See Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art at Ubirr and Nourlangie

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kakadu National Park is home to more than 5,000 recorded Aboriginal art sites. Two of the most famous are Ubirr and Nourlangie, ancient shelters that contain rock paintings dating back 50,000 years. A one-mile path takes visitors through Nourlangie, and a steep climb to Gunwarddehwardde lookout offers incredible views over the Kakadu and neighboring Arnhem Land escarpment. Here a rock painting depicts the Lightning Man, an ancestral spirit heralding the monsoon season (which typically runs November to March). Like Nourlangie, Ubirr boasts breathtaking views over the Nadab floodplain. Look out for unique birdlife and native wildlife across the floodplain.

Cruise the Yellow Water Billabong

The Yellow Water billabong is one of Kakadu's best-known landmarks. Located in the heart of the national park, the billabong flows through the region's majestic wetlands, reflecting picture-perfect sunsets in the calm waters. Pink and white water lilies dot its surface, and paperbark forests, pandanus and fresh water mangroves line its shores. Cruises operate daily and are a fantastic way to discover the billabong's remarkable flora and fauna. From the deck of your boat, spot crocodiles, wild horses, buffalo and other wildlife.

Explore the Waterfalls of Litchfield National Park

A short, 90-minute drive from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is a favorite for locals. Free to enter, it is home to crystal clear waterfalls and swimming pools. Don’t miss Buley Rockhole, Wangi Falls and Florence Falls. From Buley Rockhole, take the two-mile Florence Creek Walk through the monsoon rainforest and spot a range of wildlife, from unique bird species such as kingfishers and fairy-wrens, to bandicoots (small terrestrial marsupials).

Cool off in the plunge pool beneath Florence Falls, or enjoy panoramic views from the viewing platform above. Farther afield, Wangi Falls is one of the park's most popular attractions, featuring waterfalls and a post-card perfect swimming hole.

Embark on a Jumping Croc Cruise

The Australian saltwater crocodile is one of the most magnificent species on the continent. A protected species, today an estimated 150,000 inhabit Northern Australia. The world's largest living reptiles, Australian salties can grow to be more than 20 feet in length.

On the one-hour Jumping Crocodile Cruise, cruise down the Adelaide River and see the massive territorial crocs jump vertically out of the water at close range. Their size and raw power will thrill and amaze you.

Dive With Crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove

For a bigger adrenaline rush, get even closer to Australia's iconic crocs at Darwin's Crocosaurus Cove. Peer into their underwater environment through aquarium walls, or dare to dive with them in the Cage of Death experience. Australia’s only crocodile dive, the Cage of Death takes up to two visitors into an enclosure for 15 minutes. Regular feeding by caretakers ensures that the massive reptiles are active. Watch out for those tails!

Wander the Mindil Beach Sunset Market

Fresh flavors from across Asia and Australia mix with local arts and crafts in a balmy, tropical setting at Darwin's Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Held every Thursday and Sunday evenings in the dry season months between May and October, this vibrant market is something of a Darwin institution. Locals start arriving at dusk, armed with tables, chairs and rugs, and settle on the beach or grass to watch the sun sink in a blaze of color.

Cruise Darwin Harbor

Larger than Sydney Harbor, Darwin Harbor supports a diverse range of marine ecosystems and is a vital transport hub for northern Australia. Cruise its sparkling blue waters surrounded by scenic mangroves aboard the schooner Tumlaren or multi-level catamaran Charles Darwin for a slice of the Northern Territory's Top End lifestyle. Watching sunset over the city from your intimate vantage point on the sea will take your breath away.

See World-Famous Tiwi Island Art 

Comprising Bathurst and Melville Islands, with a population of around 2,500, the Tiwi Islands are only 50 miles north of Darwin, accessible via the 2.5-hour SeaLink ferry service. The Tiwi people are known internationally for their unique style of art which includes carvings and bright textile designs. Prized by collectors, many Tiwi artists have exhibited around the world. A Tiwi Art Tour introduces visitors to the islands' rich culture.

Discover Indigenous Culture at Top Didj

This two-hour experience led by indigenous artists from the Katherine region and Central Australia immerses you in authentic Aboriginal culture. Try your hand at dot painting, building fire with sticks or spear and boomerang throwing, and even feed a baby wallaby. You can also browse a local art gallery featuring didgeridoos, Aboriginal artwork, boomerangs, weavings, clap sticks, carvings and souvenirs.

Paddle Through Katherine Gorge

The Outback meets the tropics in Katherine, a region home to the world-renowned Katherine Gorge. A series of 13 gorges carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River, the Gorge is a paddler's dream come true. Push off from the river bank, fasten your life jacket, and embark on an unforgettable journey past waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art sites and wildlife. Regular cruises also run through the Gorge. Helicopters leaving from near the visitor center offer stunning aerial views of the gorge system and Arnhem Land plateau.

Discover more of the Northern Territory's Top End.

10 Ways to Awaken Your Tastebuds in Austria

Smithsonian Magazine

Throughout Austria, dining is much more than food—it's atmosphere, location and tradition. From rural alpine inns and family-run vineyards to internationally acclaimed restaurants, Austrian dining reflects each region’s unique character. Whether sampling Styrian pumpkin seed oil at an outdoor market in Graz, sipping fruit brandy at a centuries-old alpine distillery or enjoying a pastry at an Unesco-listed Viennese coffeehouse, here are ten must-try food and wine experiences: 

Try local specialties at Graz’ centuries-old farmers markets

Image by Graz Tourismus / Harald Eisenberger. Grazer Krauthäuptel is Graz's "holy grail" lettuce. Sold here at Kaiser Josef Farmers Market, it is known for being particularly crisp and slightly sweet while bitter at the same time. (original image)

Image by Graz Tourismus / Harry Schiffer. Kaiser Josef Farmers Market runs year-round, Monday through Sunday, from early morning until early afternoon. (original image)

Image by Graz Tourismus / Harry Schiffer. Fresh peppers are sold at the Lendplatz Market. (original image)

Image by Steiermark Tourismus / A young couple enjoys a picnic of fresh fruit and vegetables on the city mountain. (original image)

Home to 800 urban farmers, Graz boasts the most market days of anywhere in Europe, and Kaiser Josef Market—open every day at 6:00 am, except Sunday—is at the heart of its foodie scene. Here, sample the cornucopia of garden-fresh vegetables, cured local meats, morning-baked bread and Styria’s famous green-gold pumpkin seed oil.

At one of several small restaurants surrounding the market, try traditional Styrian dishes made from the day’s freshest selections, such as crispy fried chicken served alongside endive and potato salad with pumpkin seed oil, or cream of pumpkin and roasted chestnut soup. Wash your meal down with a light, dry wine from one of the many surrounding vineyards—the Schilcher, an aromaticrosé, and Welschriesling, a versatile white, have attained cult status.

Follow the Via Culinaria’s themed trails through Salzburgerland

Image by SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Helge Kirchberger. Kochers herb garden in Radstadt is one of many local stops along SalzburgerLand's Via Culinaria. (original image)

Image by SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Helge Kirchberger. Guests enjoy an outdoor spread at Restaurant Eisl near Wolfgansee Lake. (original image)

Image by SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Helge Kirchberger. Sample fresh honey at Höttl Beefarm in Saalfelden. (original image)

Image by SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Helge Kirchberger. SalzburgerLand’s crystal-clear alpine lakes and streams are teeming with fish. Opt for the catch of the day at lakeside restaurants. (original image)

Image by SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Helge Kirchberger. Cheese is held in high regard in SalzburgerLand. Try Pinzgau beer cheese, Tennengau hill cheese, Flachgau hay-milk cheese or goat cheese specialties in the Lungau region. (original image)

Via Culinaria is one of Austria’s most extravagant culinary adventures, featuring 260 destinations along nine themed routes through SalzburgerLand. Tour Austria’s highest concentration of internationally acclaimed restaurants on the gourmet route, experience authentic Austrian hospitality at one of more than one hundred alpine huts on another, or choose a specialty route featuring cheese, fish, meat, sweets, herbs, beer or schnaps. Sample everything from Pinzagau beer cheese to Tennengau mountain lamb to fish caught in SalzburgerLand’s crystal-clear alpine lakes and streams. Be sure not to skip the Bach Würfel truffle, a bonbon consisting of nut truffle, coffee truffle, marzipan and dark chocolate that was created on the occasion of Bach’s 300th birthday in 1985.

Sip from the world’s largest collection of magnum-sized wine bottles

Gourmet food and wine can always be enjoyed with a view in the Arlberg region. (Lech Zurs Tourismus / Christoph Schoch)

Situated among Arlberg’s world-famous ski slopes, the rustic and elegant Hospiz Alm restaurant features stunning terrace views and a rotating tasting menu of the highest quality. Dishes range from watercress soup to carrot soufflé, but gourmet cuisine is not the only reason why foodies travel from near and far to the Hospiz Alm: It is also home to Adi Werner’s award-winning collection of large-bottle wines. Werner has been collecting thousands of magnum bottles of red wine for half a century, and attracts an avid following of oenophiles. The wines age more slowly in large bottles, and only develop their full flavor after 30 to 40 years. European royalty and politicians flock to sample Werner’s rare wines in all their outsized glory. You can tour the cellar and talk to the sommelier about the history behind collecting large-bottle wine, which can measure up to 4.7 gallons.

Lift your spirits on the Tirol Schnaps Route

Image by Kufsteinerland. Alpengasthof Pfandlhof offers overnight lodging, breakfast and homemade schnaps, or fruit brandy. (original image)

Image by Kufsteinerland. A sign outside alpine hut Leni Kiachl reads "schnaps for sale." (original image)

Image by Kufsteinerland. Schnaps are best enjoyed with a view. (original image)

Image by Agrarmarketing Tirol. Angelika Schimpfossl at the Josef Schimpfossl Distillery (original image)

No visit to Kufstein would be complete without trying Tirol’s famous fruit brandies or schnaps. The first distilleries date back to 1700s, and the four along the Tirol Schnaps Route preserve many of their best traditions. At Brennerei Zum Messerschmied, schnaps are made from the same pear tree that the owner's great-grandfather planted. Start your day with a hearty breakfast of bread, pastries, milk and coffee at a wood-paneled alpine hut in the Kufstein mountains, then head out along the route and sample a wide variety of schnaps flavors, including pear, chili, juniper berry, apricot, raspberry and apple.

While away hours at a Viennese Coffeehouse

Image by Wien Toruismus / Peter Rignaut. A couple in a Viennese coffeehouse. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Customers sip coffee outside at Café Sperl. (original image)

Image by Oesterreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt. Emperor Franz Joseph's fondness for gugelhumf, another coffeehouse menu staple, immortalized the cake in Austria's culinary history. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Customers inside the Café Sperl coffeehouse. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. A waiter serves up specially made coffee drinks. (original image)

Image by Oesterreich Werbung / Eisenhut Mayer. Applestrudel and melange coffee are staples of coffeehouse menus. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Inside Café Sperl. (original image)

Image by Osterreich Werbang / Lammerhuber. A woman enjoys the unhurried atmosphere of Cafe Korb in Vienna's Old Town. (original image)

Image by Cafe Central's marble tables, Thonet chairs and liveried waiters are typical of Viennese coffeehouse tradition. (original image)

Viennese coffeehouses are an institution, so much so that Unesco declared them part of Austria’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. Beginning in mid-17th-century, the coffeehouse was the intellectual heart of the city and remains a place where one is “unhurried.” This relaxed atmosphere, known as gemütlichkeit, is evident in traditional coffeehouses such as the elegant Café Central in Vienna’s city center, where customers take their time reading a selection of international newspapers or chatting with friends over cups of coffee and delicious pastries. Try a piece of marbled gugelhupf—made from fluffy sponge and airy brioche, then dusted with icing sugar and served with whipped cream—while sipping a cup of melange, or coffee with milk and foam on top.

Have a piece of the world’s most famous chocolate cake

Image by Oesterreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt. The iconic Viennese Sachertorte consists of decadent chocolate cake filled with apricot jam and covered in chocolate glaze. (original image)

Image by Hotel Sacher Wien. Cafe Sacher is renowned for being the home of the "original Sacher-Torte." (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Cafe Demel is also famous for its version of the dessert. (original image)

There is one Vienna treat so iconic and delicious that it is worth going all out for: Sachertorte—Austria’s decadent chocolate cake filled with apricot jam—is a Vienna classic and one that comes with a storied history. Concocted by Franz Sacher in 1832 while an apprentice in the kitchen of Prinz Metternich, the recipe was passed down to his son Eduard. While an apprentice with the imperial k. u. k. Hofzuckerbäcker Demel pastry shop, Eduard perfected the recipe, and Demel began selling the cakes as “the original Sachertorte.” In 1876, Sacher started his own business behind the Viennese State Opera at the now-famous Hotel Sacher, also calling his cakes the “original Sacher-Torte.” After a 25-year-long dispute, the Sacher family won the rights to the phrase, and Demel began selling their cakes as “Demel’s Sachertorte.”

Explore the tastes of the Habsburg Empire through Vienna’s varied cuisine

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Skopik & Lohn, a traditional-yet-trendy beisl, serves classic Viennese cuisine. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Christian Stemper. Naschmarkt is a popular place to grab bites and drinks after work. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Robert Osmark. Wiener Schnitzel—crispy, breaded veal cutlet—is a hallmark of Viennese cuisine. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud. Bitzinger is a popular street stand known for its sausages and beer. (original image)

Vienna is the only city in the world with an entire cuisine named after it. Though known best for its Wiener schnitzel—crispy, breaded veal cutlet—Vienna is home to many more time-honored dishes that change according to the seasons. Try dishes with chanterelle and steinpilze mushrooms in late summer; roasted chestnuts, venison and pumpkin in the fall; and asparagus and ramps in spring. In winter, enjoy Viennese gulasch, a slow-cooked stew made from diced meat and vegetables. The cuisine brings together flavors from all over the Habsburg Empire, so you will taste Hungarian, Bohemian and even Italian influences.

There are countless ways to enjoy Vienna’s varied cuisine—from coffeehouses, to avant-garde restaurants with international flair, to the Viennese beisl. A traditional Viennese dining experience, beisls are known for their down-to-earth, cozy atmospheres and for serving traditional cuisine. Street stands and farmers markets such as Naschmarkt and Yppenmarkt are also increasingly popular spots to enjoy food. Be sure to pick up a jar of Staud’s jam at Yppenmarket and stop by the Bitzinger sausage stand.

Have a mountain breakfast at one of Tirol’s cozy alpine inns

Image by Kufsteinerland. Cold cuts in Kufstein. (original image)

Image by Kufsteinerland. Rest and grab a meal at a hut in Kufstein. (original image)

Image by Kufsteinerland. The Leni Kiachl alpine hut. (original image)

Image by Kufsteinerland. Pfandlhof inn in the Kaiser valley. (original image)

Start your day with a hearty Tirolean breakfast in the mountains near Kufstein. Wood-paneled alpine inns serve homemade breads, pastries, fresh milk and butter in a peaceful setting. After fueling up, head to Kaisertal valley, a nature reserve that was voted Austria’s most beautiful spot in 2016. You can’t drive into the valley, so bring your hiking boots and don’t be surprised if you’re the only person wandering the sunny mountains.

Take a road trip through Austria’s stunning wine country

Image by Wien Tourismus. Vienna locals do not need to travel far to enjoy exceptional wine with a view. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus. Viennese vintners sell wine and homemade produce from traditional wine taverns known as heurigen. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus. A wine shop in Vienna features local varieties. (original image)

Image by Wien Tourismus / Lois Lammerhuber. Vineyards are an ideal location to watch the sun set over Vienna. (original image)

Image by Niederösterreich Werbung. Vineyards along the Danuabe in the Wachau Valley. (original image)

Image by Sonnenland Mittelburgenland. Sunset over the vineyards in Bergenland. (original image)

Image by Steiermark Tourismus / Harry Schiffer. Tasting rooms line the South Styrian Wine Road. (original image)

Image by Steiermark Tourismus / Rainer Fehringer. Styria's hillside views merit a visit in and of themselves. (original image)

Image by Steiermark Tourismus / Harry Schiffer. Head out into the Syrian countryside with a picnic of charcuterie, pastries and a cold, local Sauvignon Blanc. (original image)

Image by Osterreich Werbang, Popp G.. Vines stretch infinitely through Burgenland. (original image)

Image by Michael Sazel. The Hillinger Winery charms visitors with its unique architecture. (original image)

Image by Niederosterreich Werbung / Centuries-old wine terraces line the hills of Wachau Valley. (original image)

Image by Donau Niederosterreich / Steve Haider. Enjoy views of the mythical Danube over a glass of crisp Grüner Veltliner. (original image)

Image by Osterreich Werbung / Diejun. Historic wine taverns can be found throughout Wachau Valley. (original image)

Image by Osterreich Werbang / Lahofer. From August through November, the Lower Austria Wine Festival in Wachau Valley celebrates Austrian wine culture with over 800 events. (original image)

Austria boasts four spectacular wine regions: Vienna, Styria, Burgenland and the Unesco-listed Wachau Valley. Only an hour outside of Austria's capital, which is the only wine-growing metropolis in the world, the Burgenland feels worlds away. Sweet wines are tradition here, though irresistible spicy reds have entered the scene thanks to a new generation of vintners. 

Centuries-old terraces, steep and misty slopes are the hallmarks of Wachau, the narrow Danube valley between Melk and Grems. Enjoy crisp Grüner Veltliner and Riesling at a historic tavern, and be sure to check out the more than 800 wine events at the Lower Austria Wine Festival. In southern Styria, visit one of the many tasting rooms along the South Styrian Wine Road and enjoy views of rolling hills while sipping elegant wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc to the spicy Schilcher Rosé.

Stop and smell the cheese along the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road

Image by Bregenzerwald Tourismus / Ludwig Berchtold. Bregenzerwald is home to more than 60 varieties of cheese. (original image)

Image by KaseStrasse Bregenzerwald / Ludwig Berchtold. Cheese wheels sit on cellar shelves to mature. (original image)

Image by Bregenzerwald Tourismus / Ludwig Berchtold. Inn guests enjoy a mid-hike cheese spread. (original image)

Image by Bregenzerwald Tourismus / Adolf Bereuter. Bergsennerei Schnepfau produces approximately 10 60-pound cheese loaves per day. (original image)

Image by Molke Metzler Archiv / Christine Andorfer. Try your hand at cheesemaking at the Metzler dairying school. (original image)

Home to more than sixty varieties of cheese, Bregenzerwald is a dairy-lover’s paradise. Through gently undulating hills, bubbling mountain brooks, fragrant forests and verdant pastures, the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road winds past 90 alpine farmsteads. Farmers, cheese-makers, restaurants and museums all belong to this well-marked network. Sample hearty cheese platters flavored with fresh herbs at a local inn, or try your hand at cheesemaking at the dairy school in Egg. Be sure to head down into the cheese cellar in Lengenau, which houses a jaw-dropping display of several thousand blocks of maturing cheese.

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Discover more exceptional food and wine experiences in Austria.

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12 Unique Ways to Experience Armenia Off the Beaten Path

Smithsonian Magazine

If you are like most first time visitors to Armenia, you are sure to tour the ancient monasteries, explore the national museums and visit the historic brandy factories. But there are many amazing things to do in Armenia beyond the usual guidebook highlights. This past summer, I had a chance to visit Hayastan​, the Armenian name for the country of Armenia, and step off the beaten path. I found myself soaring above alpine lakes, forming ceramics with local artisans and wandering through dusty shafts of light in an abandoned Soviet textile factory. Here are a dozen extraordinary ways to experience Armenia to the fullest.

1 | Paraglide Over Lake Sevan

(V. Grigoryan)

Soar through the skies paragliding above the mountains by Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus. Gardman Tour arranges expert guides, many of whom have competed internationally, to provide equipment and tandem instruction for novices. It’s a thrilling and unique way to get to know the Armenian landscape. 

Float through the comfortable sunshine (the region averages 256 days of sun per year) and over rocky hills dotted with patches of wildflowers. In the distance, you can see the town of Sevan and the village of Lchashen. Farther off, high above the lake, spot Sevanavank Monastery, founded in the 9th century by Princess Mariam, and beyond that the mountain peaks of the Lesser Caucasus. 

2 | Discover Prehistoric Petroglyphs

(C. Rapkievian)

Surrounding a small sparkling glacial lake at about 10,500 feet above sea level near the top of Mount Ughtasar, prehistoric petroglyphs, dated 2,000 BCE to - 12,000 BCE, are carved onto the flat surfaces of manganese boulders left behind by an extinct volcano.

The petroglyphs were initially studied in the 1960’s, and archaeological research is still ongoing. Due to the site’s high elevation, the remarkable carvings are covered with snow nearly nine months of the year making them accessible only in summer months. Off-road vehicles take visitors through rocky fields full of flowers and butterflies that flit through the crisp mountain air. Celestial symbols, animals, hunters and even these dragons (pictured above) are evidence of the lives and imaginations of ancient ancestors.

3 | Create Porcelain Ornaments with Ceramics Masters

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

Visit the ceramics factory of Antonio Montalto. Master artists may even teach you the extraordinary technique of making a decorative egg. The clay is attracted to the porcelain mold creating the hollow form. After the first firing, the egg is decorated with glaze and then fired a second time to create a beautiful ornament.

4 | Explore a Mysterious Monolith

(C. Rapkievian)

Explore the mystery of Karahunj, an ancient site with a circle of placed stones. Astronomers theorize that this 7,500-year-old archeological site is a celestial observatory pre-dating England’s Stonehenge by more than 4,500 years. Two hundred lichen-covered basalt stones stand tall and approximately 80 of them have small holes that align with bright stars in the night sky.  A desolate, windswept site off the main road near the village a Sissian, visit Karahunge (literally translated as “speaking stones”) at dawn or dusk to experience its powerful beauty.

5 | Forge Iron in a Historic City

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

In the artistic city of Gyumri, visit the Irankyuni Forge to learn to create a wrought-iron souvenir with the expert guidance of a master blacksmith. Heat the iron in the hot fire and then hammer, with sparks flying, to gradually bend the metal. Historic blacksmithing tools can be seen in the Dzitoghtsyan Mansion Museum of National Architecture and Urban Life, and ironwork can still be found with the black and red tuff stone architecture around this centuries-old “city of arts and crafts.” Top off your visit to the forge with a delicious dinner next door at the blacksmith’s family-owned restaurant.

6 | Explore Spectacular Geological Formations in Mozrov Cave

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

Discover flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, pristine rock “popcorn,” “soda straws,” “bacon-rind” and “draperies” while exploring Mozrov Cave, one of Armenia’s most decorated. The karst cave was discovered in 1965 during road construction. The entrance partially collapsed due to heavy snowfall in 2012, but the 300 meter cave is still accessible.

The cave is ideal for intermediate-level recreational cavers on their own and novice cavers with a guide. Discover Armenia Tours organizes excursions and provides hard-hats, head-lamps, flashlights and transportation to explore this wild and well-preserved cave located in Vayots Dzor province.

7 | Step Back in Time in an Abandoned Soviet Textile Factory

(C. Rapkievian)

Explore an abandoned Soviet textile factory in the Vayots Dzor Province deserted in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. The site sits frozen in time with yarn still threaded in machines, lockers filled with photos and tools and folktale murals on the wall of the factory-workers’ children’s day-care. The now-silent rooms can be toured with the local owner in arrangement with Discover Armenia Tours.

8 | Join a Public Sing-a-long

(C. Rapkievian)

Sing along at a public song workshop at the new Komitas Museum-Institute in Yerevan. The “Lullabies” workshops (held every-other month on selected Saturdays) recently won the “Best Practice Award in Museum Education” from the International Council of Museums.  On other Saturdays, the workshops feature seasonal songs that Komitas, a celebrated ethnomusicologist who is considered the founder of the Armenian national school of music, collected and arranged.  Knowledgeable staff teach each line of the song and visitors of all ages are encouraged to lift up their voices in Komitas’s sometimes spiritual, sometimes playful folk songs.

9 | Cook Up Traditional Recipes

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

Cook delicious gata and other Armenian treats with TV-cooking-show star Zara Karapetyan, director of Tasty Tour.  Under the trees, next to her herb garden and orchard, stir-up the ingredients, roll out the dough and cook the sweet bread in a tonier, a traditional oven usually buried in the ground.  Then dig in to a delicious lunch of local Ushi village favorites!

10 | Spot Rare Birds in Lake Arpi National Park

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

An extraordinary number of species of birds - over 350 - can be found in Armenia because even though the country is small, there is a great range in elevation and diversity of landscape. Luba Balyan, a noted ornithologist, forest ecologist and founder of a bird conservation organization in Armenia, is one of several field researchers who lead exciting bird-watching tours aimed at both devoted birders and the casual tourist. 

One particularly rich site to visit is Lake Arpi National Park in the northwestern corner of Armenia. Over 190 species of birds have been recorded in the park, including the globally threatened Dalmatian pelican, Egyptian vulture and European roller. Other birds include greater spotted and imperial eagles, red-footed and saker falcons, great snipes and semi-collared flycatchers. Plus, the park hosts one of the world’s largest colonies of Armenian gulls.

11 | Hear Ancient Chants in Geghard Monastery

(H. Tadevosyan, AMAP)

Listen to sacred chants in the ancient monastery of Geghard, located in the Upper Azat Valley. The Unesco-recognized site is partially carved out of the colorful rock cliffs and hosts a healing spring in the oldest chamber.  The Garni Ensemble is one of the incredible a capella groups that performs by special request. In the near-darkness inside the tomb of Prince Papak, the acoustics are extraordinary – nearly a 90-second reverberation. The haunting harmonies of the 5-member ensemble sound as if you are hearing a 100-member choir.

12 | Sip Modern Wine Made With Ancient Techniques

(C. Rapkievian)

Celebrate with a visit to Trinity Canyon Vineyards in the Vayots Dzor highlands. The region's high altitude, sunny skies and volcanic soils create a unique terroir that the vineyard founders say allows for the cultivation of several wine styles. 

“Trinity’s main focus,” the founders say, “is to reveal the potential of Armenian indigenous grape varieties by drawing on the best organic viticulture practices.”  Using the Areni grape, the winery produces a wine that has been described as “silky, powerful, with refreshing acidity.”  

The Voskehat, another prominent grape endemic to Armenia, is used for their ancestral line of wines made in karases (ancient Armenian terracotta vessels). The resulting varieties range in style – from light and crisp to “bold, skin-macerated orange wines.” 

Their tasting area is a pleasant patio of rustic picnic tables near a garden set up for music and other special events with a demonstration vineyard on the hillside.  Raise a glass to toast executive director-poet-musician, Hovakim Saghatelyan, enthusiastic winemaker Artem Parseghyan and the rest of the staff as you reflect on the winery’s deep connection to the land and its gifts. 

With such marvelous and unique opportunities in Armenia, you will hope to return as soon as possible!

14 Fun Facts About Fireworks

Smithsonian Magazine

Like many Independence Days before it, this year’s celebrations will undoubtedly involve some sort of pyrotechnics display. Fireworks have been astounding audiences across the globe for centuries, and if the images above (all submitted by our readers) are any evidence, this year’s displays are sure to be just as spectacular as years past.

To pass the time in between rocket launches, here are 14 facts about the history and science of fireworks:

1. The Chinese used firecrackers to scare off mountain men.

As early as 200 B.C., the Chinese were writing on green bamboo stalks and heating it on coals to dry. Sometimes if left too long over the heat, the wood expanded and even burst, with a bang of course. According to Scientific American, Chinese scholars noticed that the noises effectively scared off abnormally large mountain men. And, thus, the firecracker was born. By some accounts, fireworks were also thought to scare away evil spirits.

2. The invention of fireworks led to the invention of pyrotechnic weaponry—not the other way around.

Sometime between 600 and 900 C.E., Chinese alchemists accidentally mixed saltpeter (or potassium nitrate) with sulfur and charcoal, inadvertently stumbling upon the crude chemical recipe for gunpowder. Supposedly, they had been searching for an elixir for immortality.

This “fire drug” (or huo yao) became an integral part of Chinese cultural celebrations. Stuffing the aforementioned bamboo tubes with gunpowder created a sort of sparkler. It wasn’t long before military engineers used the explosive chemical concoction to their advantage. The first recorded use of gunpowder weaponry in China dates to 1046 and references a crude gunpowder catapult. The Chinese also took traditional bamboo sparklers and attached them to arrows to rain down on their enemies. On a darker note, there are also accounts of fireworks being strapped to rats for use in medieval warfare.

3. Fireworks are just chemical reactions.

A firework requires three key components: an oxidizer, a fuel and a chemical mixture to produce the color. The oxidizer breaks the chemical bonds in the fuel, releasing all of the energy that’s stored in those bonds. To ignite this chemical reaction, all you need is a bit of fire, in the form of a fuse or a direct flame.

In the case of early fireworks, saltpeter was the oxidizing ingredient that drove the reaction, as British scholar Roger Bacon figured out in the early 1200s. Interestingly, Bacon kept his findings a secret, writing them in code to keep them out of the wrong hands.

4. Specific elements produce specific colors.

Firework color concoctions are comprised of different metal elements. When an element burns, its electrons get excited, and it releases energy in the form of light. Different chemicals burn at different wavelengths of light. Strontium and lithium compounds produce deep reds; copper produces blues; titanium and magnesium burn silver or white; calcium creates an orange color; sodium produces yellow pyrotechnics; and finally, barium burns green. Combining chlorine with barium or copper creates neon green and turquoise flames, respectively. Blue is apparently the most difficult to produce. Pyrotechnic stars comprised of these chemicals are typically propelled into the sky using an aerial shell.

5. China may have invented the firework, but Italy invented the aerial shell (and also made fireworks colorful).

Most modern fireworks displays use aerial shells, which resemble ice cream cones. Developed in the 1830s by Italian pyrotechnicians, the shells contain fuel in a cone bottom, while the “scoop” contains an outer layer of pyrotechnic stars, or tiny balls containing the chemicals needed to produce a desired color, and an inner bursting charge. Italians are also credited with figuring out that one could use metallic powders to create specific colors. Today, the shape that the firework produces is a product of the inner anatomy of the aerial shell or rocket.

6. Marco Polo probably wasn’t the first to bring gunpowder to Europe.

While Marco Polo did return from China in 1295 with fireworks, some argue that Europeans were likely exposed to gunpowder weaponry a little earlier during the Crusades. In the 9th century, China began trying to control the flow of gunpowder to its neighbors, in hopes of keeping the benefits of the technology to itself in case of conflict. Given that Arabs used various types of gunpowder-like weapons during the Crusades, gunpowder likely spread to the Middle East along the Silk Road in the intervening period, despite China’s best efforts.

7. Boom! Hiss! Crack! Some firework recipes include sound elements.

Layers of an organic salt, like sodium salicylate, combined with the oxidizer potassium perchlorate burn one at a time. As each layer burns, it slowly releases a gas, creating the whistling sound associated with most firework rockets. Aluminum or iron flakes can create hissing or sizzling sparkles, while titanium powder can create loud blasts, in addition to white sparks.

8. Fireworks are poisonous.

Given their ingredients, it makes sense that fireworks are not so great for the environment. Exploding a firework releases heavy metals, dioxins, perchlorates and other air pollutants into the atmosphere, and these pollutants have serious health effects in high doses. Barium nitrate can cause lung problems, while the oxidizer potassium perchlorate has been linked to thyroid problems and birth defects.

9. You can’t recycle fireworks.

Again, given their components, it’s probably not too surprising that recycling exploded fireworks isn’t an option. Before tossing them in the trash, soaking the discards in water is always a good idea. Any cardboard is likely too dirty to be of any value to recyclers, though it’s always a good idea to check with your city or municipality’s waste department. If you are trying to dispose of unused fireworks, it’s a good idea to call them as well, as most have special disposal procedures for explosives.

10. Don’t worry, chemists are developing more environmentally friendly firework recipes.

Some groups have already found substitutes for barium compounds and potassium perchlorate. By replacing chlorine with iodine, a team at the U.S. Army’s Pyrotechnics Technology and Prototyping Division found that sodium and potassium periodate are both safe and effective oxidizers. The same group also found success replacing barium with boron. The work is aimed at making more environmentally friendly flares for military use, but could also be applied to civilian fireworks. Some fireworks that use nitrogen-rich compounds in place of perchlorates have been used in small displays, but the challenge is making eco-friendly products as cheap as alternatives.

11. Americans have been setting off fireworks to celebrate their independence since 1777, at least.

Even some of the very first Independence Day celebrations involved fireworks. On July 4, 1777, Philadelphia put together an elaborate day of festivities, notes American University historian James R. Heintze. The celebration included a 13 cannon display, a parade, a fancy dinner, toasts, music, musket salutes, “loud huzzas,” and of course fireworks. Heintze cites this description from the Virginia Gazette on July 18, 1777:

“The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal. Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.”

12. Fireworks aren’t for everybody.

Dogs whimper. Cats hide under the bed. Birds become so startled they get disoriented and fly into things. Even some people have extreme fears of fireworks or noise phobia.

13. Fireworks are dangerous (duh).

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting for those who plan to tinker with pyrotechnics in the backyard this 4th of July. Last year saw an uptick in fireworks-related injuries according to a new report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In 2012, 8,700 people injured themselves using fireworks, and in 2013, that tally jumped to 11,300 people. Roughly 65 percent of those injuries happened in the 30 days surrounding July 4th. More than 40 percent of the injuries involved sparklers and rockets. In addition to injuries, fireworks can also spark wildfires.

14. Fireworks have been used in pranks for centuries.

After a series of fireworks shenanigans in 1731, officials in Rhode Island outlawed the use of fireworks for mischievous ends. At the turn of the 20th century, the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise campaigned against the use of fireworks (and other elements of urban hubbub), and their efforts are largely responsible for the first fireworks regulations in the United States. 

14 Fun Facts About Piranhas

Smithsonian Magazine

Biting has played an unusually dominant role in this year’s World Cup conversations. But Luis Suarez is hardly the most feared biter in South America. The continent is home to the ultimate biters: piranhas.

Piranhas have never had the most darling of reputations. Just look at the 1978 cult film Piranha, in which a pack of piranhas escape a military experiment gone wrong and feast on unsuspecting lake-swimmers. Or the 2010 remake, where prehistoric piranhas devour humans in 3D detail.  

Then or now, Hollywood certainly hasn’t done the piranha any favors. But are these freshwater fish the vicious river monsters they’re made out to be? Not exactly.

Piranhas do indeed have sharp teeth, and many are carnivorous. But there’s a lot of diet variation among species—that’s one reason piranhas have proved hard to taxonomically classify. Piranhas are also hard to tell apart in terms of species, diet, coloration, teeth, and even geographic range. This lack of knowledge adds a bit of dark mystery to the creatures.

Sure, they're not cute and cuddly. But they may be misunderstood, and scientists are rewriting the piranha’s fearsome stereotype. Here are 14 fun facts about the freshwater fish:

1. Piranhas’ bad reputation is at least partially Teddy Roosevelt’s fault

When Theodore Roosevelt journeyed to South America in 1913, he encountered, among other exotic creatures, several different species of piranha. Here’s what he had to say about them in his bestseller, Through the Brazilian Wilderness:

“They are the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks or the barracudas, usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves. They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water; they mutilate swimmers—in every river town in Paraguay there are men who have been thus mutilated; they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness. They will tear wounded wild fowl to pieces; and bite off the tails of big fish as they grow exhausted when fighting after being hooked.”

Roosevelt went on to recount a tale of a pack of piranhas devouring an entire cow. According to Mental Floss, locals put on a bit of a show for Roosevelt, extending a net across the river to catch piranhas before he arrived. After storing the fish in a tank without food, they tossed a dead cow into the river and released the fish, which naturally devoured the carcass.

A fish that can eat a cow makes for a great story. Given that Roosevelt was widely read, it’s easy to see how the piranha’s supervillain image spread. 

Scientists and explorers had knowledge of piranhas dating back to the 16th century, but Roosevelt’s tale is largely credited with dispersing the myth. Dated 1856, this sketch by French explorer Francis de Castelnau depicts a red-bellied piranha. (Wikimedia Commons/Francis de Castelnau)

2. Piranhas have lived in South America for millions of years

Today, piranhas inhabit the freshwaters of South America from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela up to the Paraná River in Argentina. Though estimates vary, around 30 species inhabit the lakes and rivers of South America today. Fossil evidence puts piranha ancestors in the continent’s rivers 25 million years ago, but modern piranha genera may have only been around for 1.8 million years.

A 2007 study suggests that modern species diverged from a common ancestor around 9 million years ago. Also, the Atlantic Ocean rose around 5 million years ago, expanding into the flood plains of the Amazon and other South American rivers. The high salt environment would have been inhospitable to freshwater fish, like piranhas, but some likely escaped upriver to higher altitudes. Genetic analysis suggests that piranhas living above 100 meters in the Amazon have only been around for 3 million years.

3. Piranhas found outside South America are usually pets on the lam

Piranhas attract a certain type of pet lover, and sometimes when the fish gets too large for its aquarium said pet lover decides its much better off in the local lake. In this manner, piranhas have shown up in waterways around the globe from Great Britain to China to Texas. It’s legal to own a piranha in some areas, but obviously never a good idea to release them into the wild, as the species could become invasive.

4. Piranha teeth are pretty intense but replaceable

Piranhas are known for their razor-sharp teeth and relentless bite. (The word piranha literally translates to “tooth fish” in the Brazilian language Tupí.) Adults have a single row of interlocking teeth lining the jaw. True piranhas have tricuspid teeth, with a more pronounced middle cuspid or crown, about 4 millimeters tall.

The shape of a piranha’s tooth is frequently compared to that of a blade and is clearly adapted to suit their meat-eating diet. The actual tooth enamel structure is similar to that of sharks.

It’s not uncommon for piranhas to lose teeth throughout their lifetime. But, while sharks replace their teeth individually, piranhas replace teeth in quarters multiple times throughout their lifespan, which reaches up to eight years in captivity. A piranha with half of its lower jaw chompers missing isn’t out of the ordinary.

The jaw bone of a red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) specimen. (Wikimedia Commons/Sarefo)

5. A strong bite runs in the family

Though they are hardly as menacing as fiction suggests, piranhas do bite with quite a bit of force. In a 2012 study in Scientific Reports, researchers found that black (or redeye) piranhas (Serrasalmus rhombeus)—the largest of modern species—bite with a maximum force of 72 pounds (that’s three times their own body weight).

Using a tooth fossil model, they found that piranhas' 10-million-year-old extinct ancestor, Megapiranha paranensis, had a jaw-tip bite force—the force that jaw muscles can exert through the very tip of its jaw—of as high as 1,068 pounds. For reference, the M. paranensis when alive weighed only 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds), so that’s roughly 50 times the animal’s body weight.

Science notes that T. rex’s estimated bite force is three times higher than that of this ancient piranha—but the king of the reptiles also weight a lot more. M. paranensis also had two rows of teeth, while modern piranhas have just the one. It’s not clear exactly what this ancient fish ate, but whatever it was, it must have required some serious chomps.

6. Humans and capybaras are only part of the piranha diet if these prey already dead or dying

The idea that a piranha could rip a human to shreds is probably more legend than fact, too. For the curious, Popular Science spoke to some experts who estimate that stripping the flesh from a 180-pound human in 5 minutes would require approximately 300 to 500 piranhas. Cases of heart attack and epilepsy that ended with the afflicted drowning in a South American river do show evidence of piranha nibbles, but in those instances, the victim was already deceased when piranhas got involved.

While the myth of the man-eating piranha belongs to movie theaters, the Internet has a wealth of mysterious footage of piranha packs taking down capybaras. Some piranhas do occasionally eat small mammals, but as with humans, it’s usually when the unfortunate animal is already dead or gravely injured.

This would pretty much never happen in real live. (Video: Piranha 3D/Dimension Films)

7. Some piranhas are cannibals

A typical piranha diet consists of insects, fish, crustaceans, worms, carrion, seeds and other plant material. A red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), for example, eats about 2.46 grams per day—about one-eighth of its average body mass. Crustaceans, bugs, and scavenged scraps make up the largest chunk of their meals, but the balance of this diet can shift depending on the fish’s age and the food sources available.

So occasionally when resources are low and competition for food is high, piranhas have been known to take a chunk out of a fellow piranha, living or dead. Even weirder, wimple piranhas (Catoprion mentofeed on fish scales, which contain a protein mucus layer that’s surprisingly nutritious.

8. And some are vegetarians

Despite their flesh-eating reputation, some piranhas are omnivorous, eating more seeds than meat, and some even subsist on plants alone. For example, in the Amazonian rapids of the Trombetas basin in Pará, Brazil, scientists discovered that Tometes camunani lives solely off of riverweeds.

A Tometes camunani specimen. (© WWF/Tommaso Giarrizzo)

Piranhas' closest relative, the pacu or tambaqui fish (Colossoma macropomum), also lives on a mostly meat-free diet. Pacus closely resemble some piranha species in size and coloration, and thus, are often sold at fish markets as, “vegetarian piranhas,” as well as other less flattering nicknames.

9. When hunting prey, piranhas go for the tail and eyes

A 1972 study in red-bellied piranhas found that the fish most frequently attacked goldfish in a lab setting beginning with their prey’s tail and/or eyes. The researchers concluded that such an attack strategy would effectively immobilize piranhas’ opponents and prove useful for survival.

10. Piranhas bark

From anecdotes and observational research, scientists have known for a while that red-bellied piranhas make bark-like noises when caught by fishermen. Upon further examination, a team of Belgian scientists found that they make three distinctive types of vocalization in different situations.

In a visual staring contest with another fish, they start making quick calls that sound similar to barks, meant as a warning along the lines of, “Don’t mess with me, buddy.” In the act of actually circling or fighting another fish, piranhas emit low grunts or thud sounds, which researchers believe communicates more of a direct threat to the other fish.

The fish makes these two sounds using its swimbladder, a gas-containing organ that keeps fish afloat. Piranhas contract and relax muscles around the swimbladder to make noises of different frequencies.

The third vocalization? Should the opposing fish not back down, the piranha will gnash its teeth together and chase its rival. 

Here are all three sounds back to back:

11. Piranhas run in packs for safety, not strength

Part of piranhas’ fierce reputation stems from the fact that they often swim in packs or shoals. Red-bellied piranhas are particularly known as pack hunters. Though it might seem an advantageous hunting technique—more fish could theoretically take down a larger foe—the behavior actually stems from fear.

A shoal of piranhas (Serrasalmus sp.). Scary, right? (© Science Photo Library/Corbis)

Piranhas aren’t apex predators—they’re prey to caimans, birds, river dolphins, and other large pescatarian fish. So traveling in shoals has the effect of protecting the inner fish from attack. Further, shoals tend to have a hierarchy of larger, older fish towards the center and younger fish on the outer edges, suggesting that safety might be the true motivation.

In 2005, researchers looked at shoal formation in captive red-bellied piranhas and found that the fish both breathed easier in larger shoals and responded more calmly to simulated predator attacks. The researchers also observed wild piranhas forming larger shoals in shallow waters where they might be more vulnerable.

A spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus eating fresh piranha in Venezuela. (© W. Perry Conway/CORBIS)

12. They’ll only attack you if you mess with them (or their eggs)

Though piranhas have a reputation for attacking, there’s not much evidence to support the legend. Like grizzly bears, wolves, sharks, and pretty much any large scary thing with teeth, piranhas will leave you alone if you leave them alone.

Black piranhas and red-bellied piranhas are considered the most dangerous and aggressive toward humans. Nonetheless, South American swimmers typically emerge from piranha-infested waters without loss of flesh. For swimmers, the danger comes when the water level is low, prey is scarce, or you disturb its spawn buried in the riverbed—basically situations where the fish either feel really threatened or really hungry, and thus become more aggressive.

For fishermen, untangling a piranha from a net or a hook is where things get dicey. In most cases, if they bite you, they only bite you once—and they usually go for the toes or feet.

13. Piranhas seem to be attracted to noise, splashing, and blood

 A 2007 study linked noise, splashing, and spilling food, fish, or blood into the river with three instances of piranha attacks on humans in Suriname. Piranhas might be naturally attuned to pick up on the sound of fruits and nuts falling from trees and hitting the water and, thus, mistake splashing children for the noise associated with food.

As for blood, it likely does not render a piranha senseless as the movies would suggest, but piranhas can smell a drop of blood in 200 liters of water. So, if you are a bleeding, rambunctious child, a dip in the Amazon might not be the best idea.

14. They’re great grilled or in soup

In some parts of the Amazon, eating piranha is considered taboo—a common cultural perception for predatory fish—while others are convinced it’s an aphrodisiacPiranha soup is popular in the Pantanal region of Brazil, but many choose to serve the fish grilled on a banana leaf with tomatoes and limes for garnish.

Perhaps it’s time to put the myth of evil piranhas to bed, and instead enjoy a nice bowl of piranha soup.

14 Fun Facts About Sea Hawks

Smithsonian Magazine

You love wildlife. You have absolutely no interest in football. Yet, due to the idiosyncrasies of American culture, you're inevitably forced to watch exactly one football game per year: the Super Bowl.

Take heart. This year's game features two teams with animal mascots. Two rather charismatic animals, in fact. We've got you covered with 14 fun facts scientists have learned about each of them. Feel free to toss them out during a lull in the game's action.

1. There's no such thing as a "seahawk." 

The Seattle franchise might spell it as one word, but biologists don't. In fact, they don't even use the term to refer to one particular species.

You could use the name sea hawk to refer to an osprey (pictured above) or a skua (itself a term that covers a group of seven related species of seabirds). Both groups share a number of characteristics, including a fish-based diet.

The Seattle Seahawks' mascot is actually an augur hawk (pictured above), not a sea hawk. (Photo by Matt Edmonds)

2. The Seattle Seahawks' "seahawk" isn't actually a sea hawk.

Before every home game, the team releases a trained bird named Taima to fly out of the tunnel before the players, lead them onto the field and get the crowd jazzed up for the game. But the nine-year-old bird is an augur hawk (also known as an augur buzzard), native to Africa, not a seafaring species that can properly be called a sea hawk.

David Knutson, the falconer who trained Taima, originally wanted an osprey for authenticity's sake, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service prohibited him from using a native bird for commercial purposes. Instead, he ordered an augur hawk hatchling—which has markings roughly similar to an osprey—from St. Louis' World Bird Sanctuary and trained it to deal with the noise and chaos of a raucous football game.

The range of the main osprey species (Pandion haliaetus), shown in blue, covers every continent except Antarctica. A different species, the eastern osprey, lives in Australia. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

3. Ospreys live on every continent besides Antarctica.

Although they hunt over water, ospreys generally nest on land, within a few miles of either the ocean or a body of fresh water. Unlike most bird species, they are remarkably widespread, and even more surprising, nearly all these widely dispersed ospreys (with the exception of the eastern osprey, native to Australia) are part of one species. 

Ospreys that live at temperate latitudes migrate to the tropics for the winter, before heading back to their home area for the summer breeding season. Other ospreys live in the tropics year-round, but also return to the specific nesting grounds (the same ones where they were born) each summer for breeding.

(Image via USGS)

4. Ospreys have reversible toes.

Most other hawks and falcons have their talons arranged in a static pattern: three in the front, and one angled towards the back, as shown in the illustration on the left. But ospreys, like owls, have a unique configuration that lets them slide their toes back and forth, so they can create a two-and-two configuration (shown as #2). This helps them more firmly grip tubular-shaped fish as they fly through the air. They also frequently turn the fish to a position parallel to their flying direction, for aerodynamic purposes.

5. Ospreys have closable nostrils.

The predatory birds typically fly between 50 and 100 feet above the water before spotting a shallow-swimming fish (such as pike, carp or trout) and diving in for the kill. To avoid getting water up their noses, they have long-slitted nostrils that they can close voluntarily—one of the adaptations that allows them to consume a diet made up of 99 percent fish.

6. Ospreys usually mate for life.

After a male osprey reaches the age of three, upon returning to his natal nesting area for the summer breeding season in May, he stakes claim to a spot and begins performing an elaborate flight ritual overhead—often flying in a wave pattern while clutching a fish or nesting material in his talons—to attract a mate.

A female responds to his flight by landing at the nesting spot and eating the fish he supplies to her. Afterward, they begin building a nest together out of sticks, twigs, seaweed and other materials. Once bonded, the pair reunites every mating season for the rest of their lives (on average, they live about 30 years), only searching out other mates if one of the birds dies.

7. The osprey species is at least 11 million years old.

Fossils found in southern California show that ospreys were around in the Mid-Miocene, which occurred 15 to 11 million years ago. Although the particular species found have since gone extinct, they were recognizably osprey-like and assigned to their genus.

8. In the Middle Ages, people believed ospreys had magical powers.

It was widely though that if a fish looked up at an osprey, it would be somehow mesmerized by the sight of it. This would cause the fish to give itself up to the predator—a belief referenced in Act IV of Shakespeare's Coriolanus: "I think he'll be to Rome/As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it/By sovereignty of nature."

A pomarine skua, frequently called a sea hawk. (Photo by Patrick Coin)

9. Skuas steal much of their food.

Unlike ospreys, skuas (the other birds often called "sea hawks") obtain much of their fish diet through a less noble strategy: kleptoparasitism. This means that a skua will wait until a gull, tern or other bird catches a fish, then chase after it and attack it, forcing it to eventually drop its catch so the skua can steal it. They're rather brazen in their extortion attempts—in some cases, they'll successfully steal from a bird three times their weight. During the winter, as much as 95 percent of a skua's diet can be obtained through theft.

10. Some skuas kill other birds, including penguins.

Although fish makes up the majority of their diet, some skuas use their aggressiveness to not only steal the catch away from other birds, but occasionally to kill them. South Polar skuas, in particular, are notorious for attacking penguin nesting sites, snapping up penguin chicks and eating them whole:

11. Skuas will attack anything that comes near their nests, including humans.

The birds are extremely aggressive in defending their young (perhaps from seeing firsthand what happens to less protective parents, like penguins) and will dive at the head of any animal that approaches their nest. This even applies to humans, with skuas occasionally injuring people in the act of defending their chicks.

12. Sometimes, skuas will fake injuries to distract predators.

In especially desperate situations, the birds will sometimes resort to a remarkably ingenious tactic: a distraction display, which involves an adult bird luring a predator away from a nest full of vulnerable skua chicks, generally by faking an injury. The predator (often a larger gull, hawk or eagle) follows the seemingly-debilitated skua away from the nest, intent on obtaining a larger meal, and then the skua miraculously flies away at full strength, having saved its offspring along with itself.

13. Skuas are attentive parents.

All this aggressiveness has a reasonable justification. Skuas (which mate for life, like ospreys) are attentive parents, guarding their chicks through a 57-day fledging process each year. Fathers, in particular, take on most of the responsibility, obtaining food for the chicks daily (whether by theft or honest hunting) during the entire period.

14. Some skuas migrate from the poles to the equator each year.

Among the most remarkable of all skua behaviors is the fact that pomarine skuas, which spend the summer nesting on Arctic tundra North of Russia and Canada, fly all the way down to the tropical waters off Africa and Central America each winter, a journey of several thousand miles. Next time you're judging the birds for their piratical ways, remember that they're fueling up for one of the longest journeys in the animal kingdom.

18 Ways to Celebrate the Bauhaus 100th Anniversary in Germany This Year

Smithsonian Magazine

In the time period between World War I and World War II, the Bauhaus School of Design emerged with a radical mission: to effect a new way of living in the modern world by uniting art with craft. Founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus opened its doors in Weimar, a longtime hotspot for creative minds and the political center of the new, democratic Weimar Republic. Together with the avant-garde artists he recruited from Germany and throughout Europe, Gropius espoused the principle that "form follows function," embracing ideals of simplicity and practicality and encouraging the use of bold, geometric shapes and primary colors across architecture, art and design.

Known as the official “cradle of Bauhaus,” Weimar is considered the center of the 20th-century movement. In the state of Thuringia alone, you can still view more than 30 Bauhaus buildings and sites, from the first classroom building in Weimar to the KUNSTPavillon exhibition space in Eisenach to the original ceramics workshop in Dornburg.

After six years, Gropius moved the school to Dessau, during which time he emphasized the importance of designing for mass production. Beginning in 1928, under the direction of Hannes Meyer, that focus shifted toward designing for social good. The school's third and final director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, took over in 1930 and moved the school to Berlin in 1932. One year later, the Nazi Party forced the school to shutter its doors in 1933. Though the school was operational for just 14 short years, Bauhaus students and masters spread its teachings, which influenced and inspired other avant-garde movements throughout Germany and the world. The school, in short, changed design as we know it.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus this year, cities, museums and foundations across Germany are celebrating the profound impact of the school. From an exhibition dedicated to lamps to 1920s-inspired canoe tours, here are 18 events and destinations not to miss.

Organized by the Bauhaus Association of Germany, the Grand Tour of Modernism highlights 100 significant modernist and Bauhaus buildings throughout the country. From the world's most beautiful coal mine to a convent with a swimming pool beneath its church to a seaside restaurant shaped like a teapot, the sites highlight the many shapes and sizes of modernism. Most of the sites are open to the public and can be visited by rail, car or bicycle. Choose from seven themed subroutes, or create your own tour.

On April 6, a brand-new, five-story Bauhaus Museum opened in Weimar. Designed by Heike Hanada, a German architect and Bauhaus University professor, the cubic building is the new home of the world’s oldest Bauhaus collection, totaling 13,000 objects. Collection highlights include Marianne Brandt’s glass teapot and Marcel Breur’s slatted chair. The inaugural exhibition, "The Bauhaus Comes From Weimar," highlights the relevance of the Bauhaus then and now by reexamining the questions and ideas that Bauhaus members focused on in their time, above all the question "How do we want to live together?" Together with the Neues Museum, which reopened in April with a permanent collection of early modernist art, the Bauhaus Museum forms the heart of Weimar's new Modernism Quarter, a network of modernist sites spanning the 19th century to today.

Nearby Am Horn House, a UNESCO World Heritage site, will reopen following renovations on May 18. Designed by painter Gerhard Muche as a model house for the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition, Am Horn House is the first and Weimar's only example of Bauhaus architecture. The renovated museum will resemble the house as it was in 1923, including reconstructions of former furnishings.

Come September 8, a brand-new Bauhaus Museum will also open in Dessau. The glass-and-steel building, built by Barcelona-based architecture firm González Hinz Zabala, who competed against 831 other applicants for the job, will be the first space to house and display Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s full collection of 49,000 objects. The collection includes invaluable graphics and drawings by the Bauhaus masters.

The culmination of year-long research project and exhibition that has traveled around the world thanks to the Goethe-Institut, “Bauhaus Imaginista: Still Undead” explores how Bauhaus concepts have been adopted, adapted and challenged in Asia, Africa and the Americas. “Still Undead,” the project's fourth chapter, uses Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s Reflected Light Play as a launch point for understanding developments in cinema and new media. Occupying more than 21,000 square feet in Berlin’s House of the Cultures of the World, the exhibition features historic artifacts related to the Bauhaus and modernism as well as rare loans and commissioned works, which together show that the Bauhaus imagination is very much alive and well.

Oskar Schlemmer is one of the most famous and multifaceted artists to emerge from the Bauhaus era. A painter, sculptor, choreographer and set designer, he oversaw the Bauhaus School’s mural-painting and sculpture departments beginning in 1920 and later directed theater production and design.

"Oskar Schlemmer - The Bauhaus and the Path to Modernity" is the first monographic exhibition of Schlemmer’s work in eastern Germany, featuring more than 75 exhibits with a focus on his art from the 1920s and 30s. Paintings and stage and dance works highlight Schlemmer’s fascination with the human body as well as technological and social innovation. See everything from mural sketches to artifacts inspired by his iconic 1920s Triadic Ballet performance, which a September 2018 Google Doodle described as “bulbous mechanical creatures wearing metallic masks.” Works by his contemporaries, including László Moholy-Nagy, Andor Weininger and Wassily Kandinsk, will also be featured.

Among the most widely recognized objects to emerge from the Bauhaus era is the 1924 Wagenfeld lamp. Designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, a student of the Bauhaus from 1923 to 1925, it features a shade made from opaline glass and a post made from nickel-plated steel. When the Bauhaus Weimar dissolved in 1925, Wagenfeld went on to join the German Werkbund, or the German Association of Craftsmen, and would design countless household items over the course of his career. He favored glass and stainless steel as materials for creating designs that were timeless and practical.

The neoclassical Wilhelm Wagenfeld house, an exhibition space named after Bremen’s famous resident, will present an exhibition on Wagenfeld lamps examining the influence of the Bauhaus on the artist’s works from the 1950s through the 70s as well as the influence of Wagenfeld’s works on contemporary lamp designs.

Following the closure of the Bauhaus School, 25 former members migrated to Krefeld, then the heart of Germany’s silk and velvet industries, in search of work. They found jobs designing for the city’s textile factories, teaching at the local textile desing school and developing new buildings in the city. Two of the city’s most famous Bauhaus residents include architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the last Bauhaus director, and designer Lilly Reich. In honor of the centenary, contemporary artist Thomas Schütte has designed a pavilion adjacent to Mies’ Esters and Lange residential houses to showcase historic documents and films from the Bauhaus era in Krefeld. Tours departing from the pavilion and throughout the city lead visitors past significant Bauhaus locations, from the buildings designed by Mies and his students to former textile industry sites.

Fancy walking in the footsteps of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Oskar Schlemmer? You'll want to head to Stuttgart this summer. Home to the Weissenhof Estate, a housing estate designed by 17 German Werkbund architects in 1927 under the direction of Mies, Stuttgart served as an early model of modern urban development. From June through October, in collaboration with the Stuttgart State Gallery, international artists will engage with Bauhuas buildings and places that its students and masters frequented, both in and around the city, to reexamine the influence of the famous design school.

Dessau, the second home of Bauhaus School, is pulling out all the stops this year. Chief among its centenary celebrations is an open-air exhibition that will reveal Dessau as it was during its Bauhaus era from 1925-1932. During those seven years, Bauhaus furniture would have equipped cafes and park pavilions, Bauhaus graphic design would have graced brochures and storefronts, and Bauhaus students and masters would have spent their down time canoeing on the Elbe River. “Invisible Spaces” will not only map locations connected to the Bauhaus era, but also feature recreational activities such as canoe tours and piano music by composers Satie and Stuckenschmidt to truly recreate the spirit of 1920s Dessau.

Through everyday objects, the Brandenburg Documentation Center’s “Design for Life" exhibit explores how the concept of "form meets function" was put into practice. It also dives into the shifting perceptions of the Bauhaus over the course of the 20th century: from well received, to shunned, to reclaimed and recognized as cultural heritage beginning in 1976. Objects include household items and furniture as well as graphic design and product photography. The exhibit also profiles well-known Bauhaus designers and explores developments in architecture and urban planning throughout Germany.

This summer, the Oldenburg State Museum, whose founding director was one of the first to support Bauhaus ideas by purchasing objects for the collection, will explore the legacies of four Bauhaus students from Oldenburg and East Frisia who attended the school between 1923 and 1927: architect Hans Martin Fricke, designer Hermann Gautel, painter Karl Schwoon and designer Hin Bredendieck. The 2019 exhibition will use their works and biographies to explore the impact of the Bauhaus locally and regionally as it relates to utopia, adaptation and emigration.

The Grassi Museum of the Applied Arts, home to Josef Albers’ iconic 18 stairwell window panels, will examine the work of Bauhaus residents born in Saxony as well as masters such as Albers who spent time there. While the Bauhaus School never existed in Leipzig, many artists found a platform for their ideas at Leipzig trade fairs such as Grassimesse. Galleries and museums across Saxony purchased and showed artists’ work, and publications at the time utilized Bauhaus typography and images. The exhibition will also feature work by contemporary artists produced in dialogue with Bauhaus objects and subjects – for instance, photographer Joachim Brohm will document the architectural implementation of a sketch by Mies van der Rohe.

Ever used a sans-serif font (think Arial or Helvetica)? You have the Bauhaus to thank for popularizing this no-frills font type in lieu of more ornamental blackletter typefaces used in the early-20th-century Germany. Among the many changes that the Bauhaus School brought about were a new, minimalist approach to typography as well as a radical rethinking of how to lay out text on a page using slanted headlines and geometric shapes. Beginning in September, the Gutenberg Museum, the world’s preeminent museum of printing art, will feature a special exhibition on the evolution of Bauhaus typography and typesetting between 1925 and 1932 in Dessau.

Munich’s Die Neue Sammlung, founded in 1907 and inaugurated in 1925, is the world’s oldest design museum featuring more than 100,000 items related to product and industrial design. In celebration of the Bauhaus centenary, the year-long exhibit “Reflex Bauhaus” will showcase the museum’s extensive Bauhaus collection, from Anni Albers’ geometric textiles to Marcel Breur’s tubular steel chairs and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack’s colorful spinning top toys. Uniting past with present, five contemporary artists from different disciplines—design, poetry, architecture, music composition and art—created bodies of work for the exhibit inspired by a Bauhaus object of their choice.

Through the end of June, “Better Living in Altona” offers an unprecedented look at the Hamburg borough’s drastic transformation over the last 130 years and the influence of Bauhaus architects on its urban development ideals. The exhibit begins by examining how Altona responded to the need for urban planning with its first apartment buildings at the turn of the 20th century, then shifts focus to the New Objectivity concepts of Gustav Oelsner, Karl Schneider and Friedrich Ostermeir in the 1920s. The architecture of these Bauhaus veterans, which relied heavily on steel, concrete and glass, still dominates the cityscape. Other highlights include a look at Ernst May’s 1954 postwar reconstruction plans as well as the 1970s when citizens took to renovating old buildings themselves.

Also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year is the Loheland School for Physical Education, Agriculture and Crafts, whose revolutionary spirit mirrored the Bauhaus. Founded in 1919 on an undeveloped 54 acres by women for women, the Loheland School promoted a gymnastic-aesthetic education involving physical education, theater, music, arts, crafts and farming. In partnership with the Loheland Foundation, the nearby Vonderau Museum will present objects and documents from the Loheland School from 1919-34, some of which have never been shown to the public, beginning in September.

The Saarland Modern Gallery is one of Germany's preeminent museums dedicated to contemporary art. Designed between 1962 and 1976 by architect Hanns Schönecker, who was influenced by Bauhaus ideals of simplicity, it houses a collection that spans Impressionism to present day with a focus on French and German works. Highlights include the estate of American-Ukranian avant-garde sculptor Alexandar Achipenko, an extensive graphics collection from the Berlin Secession, German Expressionism and Art Informel movements, as well as photographic works dating back to Otto Steinert, the father of subjective photography.

Itzehoe-born Wenzel Hablik, a painter, designer and architect, is regarded as one of the most important representatives of German Expressionism. Using a wide range of mediums, he explored the possibilities of a new industrial age with fantastical colorful visions and extravagant spatial concepts. This summer, a special exhibit at the Wenzel Hablik Museum, which houses the largest collection of Hablik's works, will bring his interior designs and sketches into dialogue. Chief among the highlighted works will be a painting of Hablik's former dining room, on whose walls and ceiling he painted in colorful geometric shapes. Located in the artist's former home and studio close to the museum, the dining room was restored in 2013 and will open to the public for two weekends in September.

Since the 1920s, this small store owned by the Wegscheider family has been the cultural heart of Ahrenshoop, a picturesque village on the Baltic Sea. After painter and graphic artist Hans Grass, a family friend, came to visit the Wegscheiders in 1921, he decided to move in with them. The following year, to cover living costs, the Wegscheiders opened up a shop on the property for which Grass painted wooden cans and fabrics. Business boomed, and in 1929, Bauhaus architect Walter Butzek designed the now iconic red-and-white extension. At one point in the 30s, the shop even hosted a hair salon and fashion shows. Today, visitors can stop into Bunte Stube to browse a robust collection of regional literature and purchase everything from art to natural goods, clothing and jewelry.

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Discover more must-see events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus School

1812 Lesson Plans

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Four lessons in which students use critical thinking skills to examine, analyze, and compare/contrast artworks to better understand the events of the War of 1812. Lessons include a historical research project that has students create a textbook entry to demonstrate their understanding.

1812: A Nation Emerges

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Online exhibition on an epic scale. Portraits and biographies of the war's leading players (and the leading opponents of the war) add up to a complex national portrait. The cast includes former president Thomas Jefferson, future presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, Shawnee leader Tecumseh, first lady of first ladies Dolley Madison, and the pirate Jean Laffite.

1846: Portrait of the Nation

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Website looking back at the important historical events of 1846, the year the Smithsonian was founded. Selected paintings provide visual context for major historical events.


Smithsonian Magazine

"Anything, everything, is possible." —Thomas Edison, 1908

The year 1908 began at midnight when a 700-pound "electric ball" fell from the flagpole atop the New York Times building—the first-ever ball-drop in Times Square. It ended 366 days later (1908 was a leap year) with a nearly two-and-a-half-hour flight by Wilbur Wright, the longest ever made in an airplane. In the days between, the U.S. Navy's Great White Fleet sailed around the world, Adm. Robert Peary began his conquest of the North Pole, Dr. Frederick Cook reached the North Pole (or claimed to), six automobiles set out on a 20,000-mile race from New York City to Paris, and the Model T went into production at Henry Ford's plant in Detroit, Michigan.

The events and innovations that occurred within that 12-month frame a century ago marked, in many ways, America's entry into the modern world. In some cases, they quite literally put modern America in motion. Whether practically significant or, like the automobile race around the world, essentially frivolous—a "splendid folly," one contestant called it—all reflected, and expanded, Americans' sense of what was possible. Buoyed by achievements, the country was more confident in its genius and resourcefulness—not to mention its military might—and more comfortable playing a dominant role in global affairs.

Nineteen hundred eight was an election year, and the parallels between it and 2008 are interesting. Americans of 1908 were coming off two terms of a Republican president who had abruptly set their country on a new course. He was a wealthy Ivy League-educated Easterner who had gone west as a young man and made himself into a cowboy. Like George Walker Bush, Theodore Roosevelt had entered the White House without winning the popular vote (an assassination put TR into office), then conducted himself with unapologetic force. And it was clear then, as it is now, that the country was heading into a new world defined by as yet unwritten rules, and that the man about to exit office bore not a little responsibility for this.

Americans of 1908 knew they lived in unusual times. And lest they forget, the newspapers reminded them almost daily. According to the press, everything that happened that year was bigger, better, faster and stranger than anything that had happened before. In part, this was typical newspaper hyperbole; in part, it was simply true.

An essay in the New York World on New Year's Day of 1908 articulated the wonderment shared by many. The article, titled "1808-1908-2008," noted how far the country had progressed over the previous century. In 1808, five years after the Louisiana Purchase and two years after Lewis and Clark returned from their transcontinental journey, the population had been a mere seven million souls. The federal government had been underfunded and ineffectual. Technology—transportation, communication, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing—had been barely more advanced than during the Middle Ages of Europe. Now, in 1908, with the U.S. population at almost 90 million, the federal revenue was 40 times greater than it had been a century earlier, and America was on a par with Britain and Germany as a global power. U.S. citizens enjoyed the highest per capita income in the world and were blessed with railroads and automobiles, telegraph and telephone, electricity and gas. Men shaved their whiskers with disposable razor blades and women tidied their homes with remarkable new devices called vacuum cleaners. Couples danced to the Victrola in their living rooms and snuggled in dark theaters to watch the flickering images of the Vitagraph. Invisible words volleyed across the oceans between the giant antennas of Marconi's wireless telegraph, while American engineers cut a 50-mile canal through the Isthmus of Panama.

From the glories of the present the World turned to the question of the future: "What will the year 2008 bring us? What marvels of development await the youth of tomorrow?" The U.S. population of 2008, the newspaper predicted, would be 472 million (it's 300 million). "We may have gyroscopic trains as broad as houses swinging at 200 miles an hour up steep grades and around dizzying curves. We may have aeroplanes winging the once inconquerable air. The tides that ebb and flow to waste may take the place of our spent coal and flash their strength by wire to every point of need. Who can say?"

Not a day passed without new discoveries achieved or promised. That same New Year's Day, Dr. Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute declared in a medical paper that human organ transplants would soon be common. Meanwhile, the very air seemed charged with the possibilities of the infant wireless technology. "When the expectations of wireless experts are realized everyone will have his own pocket telephone and may be called wherever he happens to be," Hampton's Magazine daringly predicted in 1908. "The citizen of the wireless age will walk abroad with a receiving apparatus compactly arranged in his hat and tuned to that one of myriad vibrations by which he has chosen to be called....When that invention is perfected, we shall have a new series of daily miracles."

A few weeks before the year began, on the bright windless morning of December 16, 1907, thousands of spectators went to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to hail the departure of the Great White Fleet on its 43,000-mile voyage around the world. Roosevelt steamed in from the Chesapeake Bay aboard the presidential yacht, the Mayflower, to give a few last-minute instructions to fleet commanders and to add his considerable heft to the pomp and circumstance. As sailors in dress uniform stood at the rails and brass bands played on the vessels, the president watched. "Did you ever see such a fleet and such a day?" he shouted to his guests aboard the Mayflower. "Isn't it magnificent? Oughtn't we all to feel proud?" It was, he concluded, "perfectly bully."

For sheer majesty, the armada was impressive. "The greatest fleet of war vessels ever assembled under one flag," the New York Times reported. The 16 battleships were worth $100 million and comprised nearly 250,000 tons of armament. The Mayflower led the ships to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and as the ships' bands played "The Girl I Left Behind Me," Roosevelt gave a last wave of his top hat.

Loaded to the gunwales and painted bright white, the ships steamed away, stretching out into a three-mile column. Not everyone understood exactly why Roosevelt sent those battleships around the world. Even now, it's difficult to give a simple answer. At the time, some Americans worried that the voyage was extravagant, rash and likely to provoke a war, most likely with Japan. Indeed, Roosevelt harbored real concerns that Japan, newly emboldened by a recent naval victory over Russia and angered by the mistreatment of Japanese immigrants in America, might pose a threat to the Philippines and other U.S. interests. "I had been doing my best to be polite to the Japanese and had finally become uncomfortably conscious of a very, very slight undertone of veiled truculence," he would write a few years later of his decision to send out the fleet. "[I]t was time for a showdown."

But Roosevelt also filled those 16 ships with friendly greetings and U.S. dollars. Among his instructions to commanders were firm words on preserving decorum among the ships' 13,000 sailors. Throughout 1908, as the battleships steamed port to port, from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney, they were greeted with adulation and American flags. When the fleet finally reached Japan in October of 1908, tens of thousands of schoolchildren greeted it by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Tensions between the two countries evaporated, and the voyage, once belittled by many as a dangerous stunt, was now applauded as a stunning success. Seldom has a president combined so deftly a message of power with offerings of peace.

To Americans, who were treated to endless stories about the 14-month voyage in newspapers and magazines, the Great White Fleet was a show of strength. The U.S. Navy was now on a par with Germany's navy and second only to Great Britain's. And America, with its capacity to produce more steel than Britain and Germany combined, could build ships faster than any country on earth.

The sky was full of miracles. In New York City, stupendous new buildings pointed upward to where the future seemed to beckon. The Singer Building, headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was completed in the spring of 1908. At 612 feet, the "Singerhorn" (as wits soon began to call it, after the Matterhorn) was the highest inhabited building in the world. A few months later, the steel frame of the Metropolitan Life Building leapt over the Singer to 700 feet.

Illustrators imagined a future city of golden towers connected by slender suspension bridges and great masonry arches. Moses King, in a 1908 illustration, imagined dirigibles and other flying craft floating over vaulting towers and bridges in New York City, bound for destinations such as the Panama Canal and the North Pole. A caption referred to "possibilities of aerial and interterrestrial construction, when the wonders of 1908...will be far outdone."

No aerial wonder topped the Wright brothers' feats that year. Absent from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, since their first brief flights there in 1903—and not having flown a lick since 1905—they returned to nearby Kill Devil Hills in April to dig out their old shed and dust off their piloting skills. The Wrights' ability to fly had advanced beyond their first thrilling seconds in the air—but their competitors had also advanced, and the Wrights felt the pressure. A coterie of bright and ambitious young men had joined Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, to form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). On March 12, 1908, in Hammondsport, New York, Casey Baldwin, an AEA member, had flown above an icy lake for a distance of almost 320 feet. Four months later, on the Fourth of July, Glenn Hammond Curtiss flew an AEA craft nearly a mile over Hammondsport.

For the previous three years, as the Wrights had dallied with possible buyers of their aircraft, critics and competitors increasingly construed their reticence to fly as evidence of failure or, worse, of fraud. Now, in the spring of 1908, they had two offers of purchase—from the U.S. Army and a private French syndicate. Both offers depended on public demonstrations of the aircraft. After a few weeks of practice in Kitty Hawk, Wilbur sailed to France to demonstrate the Wright Flyer. Orville undertook his own flight trial at Fort Myer, near Washington, D.C. The time had come to put up or shut up.

It was 6:30 on the evening of August 8 when Wilbur climbed into the seat of his Wright Flyer at a horse track near Le Mans. He wore his usual gray suit, starched white collar and green cap, turned backward so it would not blow off in flight. The evening was calm, and so, outwardly, was he. This would be the first public demonstration of a Wright plane. Much, possibly everything, was riding on it. The last time he had flown—a private practice flight at Kitty Hawk in May—he had crashed and destroyed the plane. If he did so now, the French trials would be over before they had begun, and the name Veelbur Reet, as they pronounced it in Le Mans, would be the punch-line of a French joke.

Spectators watched from the grandstand as the twin propellers behind Wilbur started to spin. All at once, the plane shot forward on its track. Four seconds later, it was airborne, rising quickly to 30 feet, higher than most of the French aviators had flown but low enough to give the audience a view of Wilbur as he made a slight adjustment to the control levers. The plane instantly responded, one wing dipping, the other lifting, and banked to the left in a tight, smooth half circle. Coming out of the turn, the plane made a straight run down the length of the track, about 875 yards, then banked and turned into another half circle. Wilbur Wright looped the field once more, then brought the plane down almost exactly where he had taken off less than two minutes earlier.

The flight had been brief, but those 100 or so seconds were arguably the most important Wilbur had spent in the air since 1903. Spectators ran across the field to shake his hand, including the same French aviators who had only recently dismissed him as a charlatan. LŽon Delagrange was beside himself. "Magnificent! Magnificent!" he cried out. "We're beaten! We don't exist!" Overnight, Wilbur was transformed from le bluffeur, as the French press had tagged him, to the "Bird Man," the most celebrated American in France since Benjamin Franklin. "You never saw anything like the complete reversal of position that took place," he wrote to Orville. "The French have simply become wild."

Yet a few weeks later, Delagrange momentarily overshadowed Wilbur's achievement by flying for 31 minutes and thereby setting a new record in the air. Now, it was Orville's turn. On September 9, he took off from Fort Myer, Virginia. He'd already made a few brief desultory hops, but now he flew for family honor and national pride. The plane shot up and began soaring around the parade ground. After 11 minutes, it was clear Orville intended to beat Delagrange's record. The spectators watched him circle the field, taking about a minute per circuit, the engine of the plane crescendoing, fading, then crescendoing again. He had flown about 30 circuits when somebody called out, "By Jings, he's broken Delagrange's record!" According to the New York Herald reporter C. H. Claudy, everybody grabbed one another's hands, each man aware, according to Claudy, that he "had actually been present while aerial history was being reeled hot from the spinning wheel which made that awkward, delicate, sturdy and perfect wonder above their heads go round and round the field."

Orville had no idea he'd broken Delagrange's record. He was lost in flying. He canted into sharp corners and dipped low, skimming over the parade ground, then suddenly rose to 150 feet, higher than anything visible but the needle of the Washington Monument and the dome of the U.S. Capitol rising to the east, backlit by morning sun. "I wanted several times today to fly right across the fields and over the river to Washington," Orville later confessed, "but my better judgment held me back." After 58 circuits of the parade ground, he landed. He had flown 57 minutes and 31 seconds, nearly double Delagrange's record.

The Wrights held the attention of the world, and over the next week or so, as Wilbur flew above adoring crowds in France, Orville set ever longer endurance records at Fort Myer. On September 10, he flew more than 65 minutes; on the 11th, more than 70; on the 12th, almost 75. That same day he set a new endurance record with a passenger— 9 minutes—and an altitude record, 250 feet.

Then, tragedy: on September 17, while flying over Fort Myer with an Army lieutenant named Thomas Selfridge, Orville crashed. He was badly injured. Selfridge was killed.

It appeared as if the crash might end the Wrights' career and set American aeronautics back years. Wilbur ceased flying in France, as Orville lay recuperating in the hospital, attended by his sister. But on September 21, Wilbur lifted off from Le Mans and began circling the artillery ground at Camp d'Auvours above his largest crowd ever, 10,000 spectators.When Wilbur surpassed Orville's flight of nearly 75 minutes, "a yell went up which defies description," according to the Herald. Still, he flew. The drone of the motor came and went, and the sky grew darker and the air cooler. At last, the plane descended and settled on the ground. Wilbur had flown for 91 minutes and 31 seconds, covering 61 miles—a new record. He had banished any conjecture that the Wrights were finished. "I thought of Orville all the time," he told reporters.

Wilbur saved his greatest triumph for the last day of the year. On December 31, 1908, he flew 2 hours and 20 minutes over Le Mans, winning the Coupe de Michelin and affirming the Wrights' place in history. "In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered," Scientific American stated, "and it must always be a matter of patriotic pride to know that it was two typical American inventors who gave to the world its first practical flying machine."

In October, during the climax of one of the most thrilling seasons in baseball history (the Chicago Cubs would snatch the National League pennant from the New York Giants, then defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series—which they haven't won since.), Henry Ford introduced his oddly shaped new automobile, the Model T. At 45, Henry Ford had been in the automobile business a dozen years, since building his first horseless carriage in a brick shed behind his Detroit home in 1896. Still, everything he had done was a warm-up to what he hoped to accomplish—"a motor car for the great multitude," he said.

Since most automobiles of the day cost between $2,000 and $4,000, only the well-off could afford them, and the machines were still largely for sport. An advertisement of the time, printed in Harper's Weekly, shows an automobile soaring over a hill as a gleeful mŽnage frolics inside. One passenger reaches into a basket. "There is no more exhilarating sport or recreation than automobiling," the ad says. "The pleasure of a spin over country roads or through city parks is greatly enhanced if the basket is well stocked with Dewar's Scotch 'White Label.' "

The fact that automobiles brought out the worst excesses of the rich, confirming what many Americans already believed about them—they were callous, selfish and ridiculous—added to the resentment of those who could not afford the machines. "Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the use of the automobile, a picture of the arrogance of wealth," Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson had said in 1906. Yet by the time he became president of the United States six years later, even socialists would be driving Model T's.

The automobile that rolled out of Ford's Piquette Avenue plant that fall did not look like a machine of destiny. It was boxy and top-heavy. The automobile writer Floyd Clymer would later call it "unquestionably ugly, funereally drab." The hard-sprung, church-pew seats made no concession to elegance or comfort. Rather, every aspect of the car was considered with an eye to lightness, economy, strength and simplicity. The simpler a piece of machinery, Ford understood, the lower the cost, and the easier it would be to maintain. Equipped with a manual and a few basic tools, a Model T owner could carry out most repairs himself. The new car's transmission would be smoother and longer lasting than any that had ever been designed. The small magnetized generator that provided a steady flash of voltage to ignite the automobile's fuel would be more dependable. The Model T was designed to ride high off the ground to give it plenty of clearance over America's infamously bumpy roadways, while the car's suspension system allowed it to handle the roads without tossing out occupants. Ford had also foreseen a day when the ditch at the side of the road would be less of a concern to motorists than oncoming traffic: he had moved the steering wheel to the left side, to improve the driver's perspective of approaching vehicles.

Ford Motor Company launched a national advertising campaign, with ads appearing in the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Weekly and other magazines. For an "unheard of" price of $850, the ads promised "a 4-cylinder, 20 h.p., five passenger family car—powerful, speedy and enduring." An extra $100 would buy such amenities as a windshield, speedometer and headlights.

Ford manufactured just 309 Model T's in 1908. But his new automobile was destined to be one of the most successful ever made. In 1913, Ford would institute the assembly line at his Highland Park, Michigan, plant. In its first year, the company more than doubled its output of Model T's, to 189,000, or about half the automobiles manufactured in America that year. By 1916, Ford would be making almost 600,000 cars a year and could lower the price of the Model T to $360, which produced more demand, to which Ford responded with more supply.

Henry Ford was superb at anticipating the future, but not even he could have predicted the popularity of the Model T and the effects it would have for years to come on how Americans lived and worked, on the landscape surrounding them and the air they breathed—on nearly every aspect of American life. The United States would become, in large part thanks to the Model T, an automobile nation.

It would be wrong to leave the impression that life was a frolic for most Americans. Vast numbers lived in poverty or near poverty. The working class, including some two million children who joined adults in steel mills and coal mines, labored long hours at occupations that were grueling and often dangerous. Tens of thousands of Americans died on the job in 1908.

In the fall of that year, the term "melting pot" entered the American lexicon, coined by playwright Israel Zangwill to denote the nation's capacity to absorb and assimilate different ethnicities and cultures. To our ears, the words may sound warm and delicious, like a pot of stew, but to Zangwill the melting pot was a caldron, "roaring and bubbling," as he wrote, "stirring and seething." And so it was. Violence erupted frequently. Anarchists ignited bombs. Gangs of loosely organized extortionists known as the Black Hand dynamited tenements in New York's Little Italy. Armies of disgruntled tobacco farmers, called Night Riders, galloped through Kentucky and Tennessee, spreading terror. Violence against African-Americans persisted, with dozens of lynchings in 1908. That August, whites in Springfield, Illinois—ironically, the hometown and resting place of Abraham Lincoln—tried to drive black citizens from the city, burning black businesses and homes and lynching two black men. (Like many events of 1908, even Springfield had a far-ranging impact: the riot led to the founding of the NAACP the next year.)

On the other side of the world, there was a breakthrough of sorts: on December 26, 1908, in Sydney, Australia, a 30-year-old African-American boxer from Galveston, Texas, named Jack Johnson stepped into the ring to fight Tommy Burns, the heavyweight champion of the world. Like every titleholder before him, Burns had refused to compete against a black man. But Johnson pursued Burns, badgering him until even whites began to suspect the Canadian was hiding beneath his white skin. Burns finally agreed to a match, but only with a deal that guaranteed him $30,000 of a $35,000 purse.

Johnson destroyed Burns before 25,000 spectators. Blood was pouring from Burns when police stopped the fight in the 14th round. The referee declared Johnson the victor. "Though he beat me, and beat me badly, I still believe I am his master," said Burns after the fight, already calling for a rematch.

Johnson laughed. "Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I just want to hear that white man come around whining for another chance." Eventually, Burns decided he did not want another chance after all.

Johnson would remain the heavyweight champion for seven years, fending off a series of "Great White Hopes." He would be sent to jail in 1920 after federal prosecutors, misapplying a statute meant to discourage prostitution, charged him with illegally transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes after he'd sent a train ticket to one of his white girlfriends. That was later, though. Now was Christmas, and Jack Johnson's victory was a gift for African-Americans to savor in the closing moments of 1908.

For all the problems, perhaps the most impressive trait Americans shared in 1908 was hope. They fiercely believed, not always with good reason, that the future would be better than the present. This faith was represented in the aspirations of the hardworking immigrants, in the dreams of architects and inventors and in the assurances of the rich. "Any man who is a bear on the future of this country," J. P. Morgan famously declared in December of 1908, "will go broke."

It's striking, in fact, how much more hopeful Americans were then than we are today. We live in a nation that is safer, healthier, richer, easier and more egalitarian than it was in 1908, but a recent Pew Research Center poll found that barely one-third of us feel optimistic about the future.

Of course, we are wiser now to the downsides of the technologies that were only just emerging in 1908. We cannot look at an airplane without knowing the death and destruction, from World War I to 9/11, that airplanes have wrought. Automobiles may have once promised exhilarating freedoms, but they also deliver thousands of deaths every year and horrendous traffic jams, and they addict us to foreign oil (1908 was the year, coincidentally, that oil was discovered in Iran) and pollute the atmosphere with, among other things, carbon dioxide, which will alter the earth in ways few of us dare imagine. The American military pride that sailed with the Great White Fleet on its voyage around the world in 1908 and was met with adoration at every port, is now tempered by the knowledge that much of the world despises us. We are left with the disquieting thought that the next 100 years may bear a price for the conveniences and conquests of the last 100.

25 Marie Antoinette-Inspired Destinations

Smithsonian Magazine

Marie Antoinette, the flashy 18th century Queen of France who spawned hundreds of Halloween costumes and a litany of “let them eat cake” merchandise, remains one of those historical figures who continues to attract loyal fans and fierce critics centuries after her death.

The 15th child of a royal Hapsburg family in Austria, the young Maria Antonia was thrust into the diplomatic spotlight when she was married to Louis XVI at the age of 14.

At first, the young princess — and later, the queen — took to royal life, becoming a fashion trendsetter for European royals while spending fortunes on any frivolity that piqued her fancy, including a small estate built in Versailles where she could pretend to be a peasant.

The young queen’s reign would be short-lived, however, as tensions had long been building in France over the dictatorial reign of the noblemen above the peasant classes. Years of poor agricultural harvests, coupled with rising anger about taxes and the extravagant spending on the part of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, led to a revolt that would blossom into revolution in 1789.

By 1793, the queen of France would be dead by guillotine, though her legacy still lives on today in ParisVienna, and of course, the Palace of Versailles.

Vienna Itinerary: Marie Antoinette’s early life

(Alexpoison / iStock)

Born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna in Vienna in 1755, Marie Antoinette was the 15th and youngest child of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, the Emperor Francis I. The Hapsburg princess grew up in the Austrian capital for the first 14 years of her life. Vienna had flourished into a baroque city during the 18th century, as opulent palaces sprung up and the rich cultural life attracted composers, musicians, and opera singers.

Schönbrunn Palace

(miluxian / iStock)

Marie Antoinette spent much of her youth at Schönbrunn Palace, the summer imperial residence of the Hapsburgs. The sprawling estate was commissioned by Maria Theresa in the late 17th century, and both the property and the gardens came to symbolize the prowess of her empire. The gardens even have a historic vineyard that once spanned more than 10,000 square-feet.

Hofburg Palace

(benedek / iStock)

The Hofburg Palace is where the Hapsburg family would spend their winters, and the young Antonia was born in an armchair in the palace, according to some reports. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s biographer wrote that a seven-year-old Marie Antoinette helped pick up a child Mozart off the floor after he slipped during a visit to the palace and eased his pain with a kiss on the cheek.

Paris Itinerary I: The Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles (JoseIgnacioSoto / iStock)

While the Palace of Versailles had long existed as a royal hunting lodge, Louis XIV — a.k.a. “The Sun King” — transformed the estate outside of Paris into the seat of French power. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would continue to make their own additions, including lavish interior redesigns and a new theater for the queen.

Wedding at the Royal Chapel in Versaille

(Sarah Karlson via Flickr)

Marie Antoinette and the dauphin, Louis XVI — who, per tradition,  had never met — were married at the age of 14 and 16 respectively, in an effort to solidify diplomatic relations between Austria and France. The pair made their vows on May 16, 1770 in front of some 5,000 guests.

Queen’s Chambers

(Cathy T via Flickr)

The queen’s chambers were anything but private. Per French courtier tradition, she was forced to perform many daily tasks in front of an audience, including putting her makeup on and even giving birth. The queen nearly suffocated when she gave birth to her first child, Marie-Thérèse, because there were so many people in her room pressing to see the first-born.

Queen’s Theatre

(Wikimedia Commons)

The queen was an avid fan of the performing arts, and she used this theater to bring both professional troupes to perform for her, as well as to stage her own productions with her friends of the court. Completed in 1780 and inaugurated June 1, the small theater features an interior decorated with flourishes of blue, white, and gold.

Petit Trianon

(Delpixart / iStock)

Louis XVI’s father commissioned this chateau in the middle of Versailles as a place for part of his entourage to stay while visiting. The young Louis would later give the palace as a gift to Marie, who would then redecorate the interiors and gardens with her own signature style, taking into account the trends of the day such as anglo-oriental gardens, according to the website of Versailles.

Hameau de la Reine

(Wikimedia Commons)

This escape, where Marie would “play peasant,” became a sticking point for the revolutionaries of France who were quick to criticize the frivolous queen for her lack of understanding of the suffering of the poor. She fed the chickens in the gardens and played make-believe here, leading to ridicule as people across the country struggled under a huge national deficit and a lack of food.

Garden of Versailles

(VitalyEdush / iStock)

The gardens of Versailles are still one of the estate’s most exciting attractions. People can stroll the gardens as the courtiers once did, or rent a boat and toast the death of the French monarchy in the manmade lake.

Paris Itinerary Part II: The French Revolution

(Google Maps)

Following years of unrest and a growing dissatisfaction with the dictatorial rule of France at the hands of noblemen, France saw a popular revolt that began July 14, 1789, and would continue for years of bloody struggle across Paris and the entire country.

The vast majority of French people lived as feudal peasants, forced to pay high taxes to the aristocracy with little opportunity for social mobility. Extravagant spending by both King Louis XVI as well as Marie Antoinette aggravated an already staggering deficit, pushing France to the brink of bankruptcy.

“There was not one action in rural life that did not require the peasants to pay a ransom… Feudal rights thus extended their clutches over every force of nature, everything that grew, moved, breathed,” wrote Jean Juares.

A poor cereal harvest, coupled with drought and other agricultural woes, caused the price of bread to skyrocket, leading to famine.

Upon learning that bread was scantily available to the majority of French people, Marie Antoinette is known to have said, “Let them eat cake.” Historians still fiercely debate whether she actually uttered these words.

Place de la Bastille

(VvoeVale / iStock)

An angry mob stormed the Bastille prison in eastern Paris on July 14, 1789, in an event that has now become known as the first major fight in the French Revolution. Most of the prisoners at the Bastille had been sent there directly by the king without a trial, and the Bastille became a symbol of monarchical rule. The Bastille also contained weapons, and the mob would go on to collect ammunition from several nearby armories, too.

Tuileries Garden

(theendup / iStock)

By October of 1789, the revolutionaries arrived at Versailles just as King Louis XVI was attempting to flee to another chateau. The royal family was instead taken to the palace of the Tuileries in Paris, where they were effectively imprisoned (though technically still free to leave).

Today, only the gardens remain, as the rest of the palace was destroyed. Visitors to Paris can stroll the grounds, which havesince become a popular place for locals to relax.

Le Temple Royal Prison

(Wikimedia Commons)

Revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries palace in 1792, capturing the French royal family and bringing them to the eastern Parisian prison called Le Temple, which had been built as a fortified monastery in the 12th century, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The majority of the royal family remained at Le Temple until they were tried and guillotined, though Marie Antoinette would be moved to the Conciergerie prison, which still remains today.

Paris Itinerary Part III: The queen’s death

(Madzia71 / iStock)

Marie Antoinette and her family spent their final days in what is now central Paris, where visitors can still see her cell, the place of her execution, and her original burial place.

The prison cell in La Conciergerie

(Wikimedia Commons)

Marie Antoinette was moved from Le Temple to the Conciergerie, a palace that was converted into a prison by revolutionaries. She would remain there until her death. Tourists can visit the cell where Marie Antoinette spent her last days alive.

Beheading at Place De La Concorde

(Wikimedia Commons)

After being convicted of treason and theft, Antoinette was executed on the place de la Concorde by guillotine on October 16, 1793. Marie Antoinette’s death followed that of her husband’s, and signaled the end of monarchical rule in France.

Place de la Concorde (then called Place de la Révolution) would continue to be used as a place of execution as the revolutionaries executed tens of thousands of nobles in what would become known as “the Reign of Terror.” Legend has it, the square where the guillotine stood was covered in blood ankle-deep for months after the executions stopped.

The sprawling square is now a traffic roundabout near the Tuileries gardens that is decorated with the famous Luxor Obelisk, which was given to France by Egypt as a gift in the early 19th century.

Church of the Madeleine

(isogood / iStock)

Along with the remains of more than 100 other people who had been executed, the corpse of Marie Antoinette was interred in an unmarked tomb in the Church of the Madeleine. The remains were later moved, but a plaque still marks the spot in the catacombs.

Basilica of Saint Denis

(Wikimedia Commons)

During the Bourbon Restoration, when Louis XVI’s younger brother, King Louis XVIII, came to power, the king would order the remains of his brother and his brother’s wife to be exhumed and laid to rest in the family crypt at the Saint Denis basilica.

The queen’s children: Hartwell House

(Wikimedia Commons)

By the end of the French Revolution, three out of the king and queen’s four children had perished. Two had died before the storming of the Bastille from illness, and Louis Joseph likely succumbed to tuberculosis during his imprisonment.

The only surviving member of the immediate family was Marie-Thérèse, Marie Antoinette’s eldest daughter. She would go on to marry the Duc of Angouleme, and reportedly led out the rest of her life haunted by the deaths of her entire family. Marie-Thérèse spent time at Hartwell House, in the United Kingdom, during the early 19th century, while her uncle Louis XVIII attempted to rule as the exiled king.

Today, the beautiful property doubles as a hotel and spa.

International Attractions: Diamonds in Washington, D.C.

(Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution)

Following Marie Antoinette’s death, many of the queen’s opulent jewels disappeared, were destroyed, or were broken down and turned into new pieces. It’s difficult to track down most of her jewelry, though the Louvre has one necklace that is rumored to be made with diamonds that belonged to the former queen.

The Smithsonian, in Washington D.C., has a pair of drop diamond earrings believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette that are on display in the geogallery.

Wigs and gowns at Versailles

(CucombreLibre via Flickr)

The queen had been known to set many of the courtly fashion trends at the time, and her daring wigs and dresses made her the talk of Europe. Much of Marie Antoinette’s dresses still remain at the Palace of Versailles, and her clothing is typically displayed in dedicated exhibitions.

"She loved ornamentation," Christian Baulez, then chief conservator of Versailles, told the Smithsonian Magazine. "She wasn't interested in dignity, but the picturesque. She had the tastes of an actress, not an austerely regal queen.”

Royal Ontario Museum

(JavenLin / iStock)

For those unable to make a transatlantic trip, North Americans can also see some of the queen’s notorious fashions at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. It houses one of her lavish, silk embroidered dresses.

Portrait at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

(Wikimedia Commons)

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, one of the only professional female painters of the 18th century court, captured this portrait of Marie Antoinette in 1778. Today, it is housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

"[Marie Antoinette] walked better than any other woman in France, holding her head very high with a majesty that singled her out in the midst of the entire court," Le Brun remarked upon meeting her.

Portrait at the Palace of Versailles

Le Brun also captured the queen in a with painting with her three children. This 1787 portrait, featuring Marie Antoinette’s children, was an attempt to soften the queen’s image and portray her as a motherly figure at a time when tensions were rising throughout the country, according to some critics.

Other articles from Travel + Leisure:

25 Millennials Just Crossed the United States By Rail Hoping to Leave Their Marks in Cities Along the Way

Smithsonian Magazine

Two weeks ago, Patrick Dowd was in downtown Los Angeles listening to Compton community leader and social entrepreneur Haleemah Nash tell a story about poverty and lack of opportunity. Compton, which is unfortunately best known for its high concentration of gang activity, is just a few miles from the Pacific. Yet young people from Compton can spend their entire early lives within a 10-block radius and reach adulthood without ever seeing the ocean.

For Dowd, there’s a message in that sobering truth that can be applied to many young people’s lives, no matter their background or opportunities. “There’s a direct connection between whether you have had exposure to a broad range of geographies and the way to envision opportunity for yourself,” he says.

With that in mind, Dowd, a former J.P. Morgan investment analyst, founded the nonprofit Millennial Trains Project in 2012. The seemingly simple cross-country train trip boasts the rather sizable goal of trying to bridge the geography of the United States and help a select group of Gen Y-ers learn how to lead on a national scale. The 10-day whistle-stop tour through six cities across the United States introduces the group of 25 young innovators to large swaths of the country and a diverse cross section of people along the way.

The third MTP journey, which ended yesterday, began on May 21 in greater Los Angeles and included stops in Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans and Atlanta, before culminating in Washington, D.C. In addition to the youth participants, a cadre of mentors rode along, including Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Amy Wilkinson, author of The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. A fourth MTP tour is slated for summer 2016.

Dowd was in India on a 2010-11 Fulbright scholarship when he learned about a 15-day train tour that would become the inspiration for the MTP. Founded in 2008, the Jagriti Yatra (in Hindi, “journey of awakening”) tour takes 450 young people to 12 stops on a 5,000-mile loop around India.

While they’re on the train, everyone aboard meets with MTP mentors and in groups to cross-pollinate ideas. (Millennial Trains Project)

To get a ticket to ride the Millennial Trains Project, applicants, ages 18 to 34, must submit an initial $50 application fee, and then pitch an idea for a project to pursue on the trip that crosses geographical boundaries. Candidates prove the viability of their projects and their commitment to them in crowdfunding campaigns through IndieGoGo. While they’re on the train, everyone aboard meets with MTP mentors and in groups to cross-pollinate ideas and collaborate to help one another. When the train stops, participants sometimes only have a few hours in a particular city. There are meetings with local government and community leaders, plus time for participants to meet with contacts they’ve made in advance of the trip to further their projects.

In the same way Jagriti Yatra produces measurable results, the work started and connections formed on the Millennial Trains Project don’t end when the train stops. Past participants have gone on to do impressive work by leaning on networks of people they met along the way. For example, after meeting energy innovators across the nation, former MTP-er and policymaker Matthew Stepp founded the Center for Clean Energy Innovation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to clean energy, and co-authored congressional legislation based on research and insights from his week riding the rails.

Clara Ritger worked on a six-episode documentary video series about the role of restaurants in revitalizing communities in transition. (Millennial Trains Project)

This year’s crop of recently minted MTP participants demonstrates similar promise. During the journey, Washington, D.C.-based producer, journalist, and filmmaker Clara Ritger worked on a six-episode documentary video series about the role of restaurants in revitalizing communities in transition. Before arriving in each city, she diligently delved into the region’s history and connected with local chefs and restaurant owners to find important stories to tell. After she wraps editing, she’ll post the pilot episodes on YouTube this summer.

Despite rigorous preparations, Ritger was surprised by some of the stark contrasts she encountered along the route. She had read about the 1928 city plan that divided Austin along racial lines, designating the eastern side for African Americans and actually relocating many people living in neighborhoods in the western side there. Expecting more progress by 2015, she was nevertheless startled by the disparity that persists. On the east side, a single well-known establishment, Franklin Barbecue, sits right up against the freeway. The traffic roars along, but the actual street is eerily quiet and mostly empty. Down the block, two BBQ food trucks support the row’s fledging food scene. “I went to one,” Ritger says, “and they suggested the other truck, too. They all know and are promoting each other.” When she crossed I-35 to interview chefs in another up-and-coming neighborhood, she hit a wall of sound on historic Rainey Street, which has a number of newer establishments under construction. The two neighborhoods, situated close together and part of the same town, are at “completely different stages of revitalizing,” she says. “I can’t wait to juxtapose that with all of the different places across the country.”

Ritger’s thoughtful approach to her project is apparent. “This was something that I’d been thinking about for a really long time but in terms of actual work, [the Millennial Trains Project] was my first opportunity to dive deep into this,” she explains. She hopes once the first episodes air, a news organization or production company might be interested in funding a longer series on the same topic.

Another project is specifically aimed at enriching the Millennial experience in post-industrial Midwestern cities. Nicole Behnke grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and moved to Milwaukee for college. “I was convinced I had to move to Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago to experience life,” she says. But in Milwaukee, she found a vibrant culture and what was then a fledgling organization, NEWaukee, dedicated to reenergizing the city and engaging young people in its development. After interning with the organization for 18 months, she was promoted to the events and communication director a year and a half ago.

Joining the MTP journey is a natural extension of Behnke’s work to help Milwaukeeans consider staying put. After NEWaukee booked MTP founder Dowd as a speaker several years ago, Milwaukee became a destination on the second MTP journey. When this latest trip was announced, Behnke knew she wanted to hitch a ride.

Behnke is creating a checklist of factors that Millennials look for when deciding where to live, and she wants to inspire people to think critically about the role they really want to have in their community. In cities and boroughs full of young transplants, like Austin and Brooklyn, young people move in and participate, she explains. But in Milwaukee, for example, “You can actually create culture, access the people you want to get a hold of, be in the city and create change you want to see in it,” she explains. “You can leave your mark.” 

When the train stops, there are meetings with local government and community leaders. In New Orleans, participants met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (Millennial Trains Project)

The train is full of big dreams to improve urban farming techniques, to compile a database of nutrition information for cancer patients and to foster trans-religious dialogue. Dowd admits it can be an insular place at times. But with three trips under his belt, he also knows the value of that week confabbing and collaborating on the way across the country. “The conversations are real. We can be in a bubble on the train, but it’s a really diverse bubble,” Dowd says. Behnke adds, “I refer to the train as an incubator of awesomeness.”

Additionally, Behnke enthuses that the trip is a way to push back against negative stereotypes that Millennials are entitled or unmotivated.

“We’re all really wanting to make change, and we’re driven and innovative,” she says of her fellow MTP participants, and of her generation more broadly. “We might bite off more than we can chew and fail, but we’re optimistic. We want to change our communities.”

2nd Pochta

National Air and Space Museum
2nd Pochta, 1875. Advertising, relief print/letterpressposter with text describing attractions at St. Petersburg, Russia Zoological Gardens. Events include orchestra, electric lights, illuminated garden, outdoor fair, gypsy singing, Hungarian and Russian songs, army choir, and gas balloon ascension by aeronaut, Alexander Shperling. Text surrounds block print of balloon, the 2nd Pochta, basked with flags and four passengers. On right side, a grappling hook hangs from pulley.

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

3D Collection

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
3D image collection of fossils, artifacts, primates, and other animals. Allows for close examination of objects from the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.


SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson in which students investigate how designers use percentages by designing and decorating a room using three different color ratios.

7. The Honorable Timothy E. Wirth, Summation - Anthropocene: Planet Earth in the Age of Humans

Smithsonian Institution
The Honorable Timothy E. Wirth Summation The Smithsonian Institution's Grand Challenges Consortia hosted a symposium on October 11, 2012 to address the tremendous scope of transformations now occurring on the Earth with profound effects on plants, animals, and natural habitats. Geologists have proposed the term Anthropocene, or "Age of Man", for this new period in the history of the planet. The symposium focused on the arrival and impact of this new era through the lenses of science, history, art, culture, philosophy, and economics, and promoted discussion, debate, and deliberation on these issues of change. Speakers included Charles C. Mann, journalist and author of 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created; Sabine O'Hara, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, & Environmental Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia; Richard Alley, Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University; and photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan. Each of these presentations was followed by responses from an interdisciplinary panel of scholars to foster a wide-ranging discussion of the issues. A summation of the day's discussion was provided by The Honorable Timothy E. Wirth, former President of the United Nations Foundation and former Congressman and Senator from Colorado. For more information on the event, please visit:

Leg, table, lattice

Smithsonian Gardens
Cast-iron leg component likely for a seat or table. The cabriole leg has pierced design with lattice motif at the top. The tripart foot curls up slightly at each end. This design is typical of the Rococo Revival style. Rococo Revival style was the most popular style of the Victorian era in the United States. It emerged as early as the 1830s and continued to be seen into the 1900s. This style was modeled after eighteenth-century French designs, yet the revival of the style pushed elements further. Rococo Revival objects tended to be highly ornamental, with more substantial, less delicate forms, and visually dense decoration. This style is defined by its sense of movement and its delicacy, as well as curvaceousness, asymmetry, and curvilinear forms. Rococo Revival motifs included floral imagery, abundant swags of fruit and foliage, shell-like waves, ‘S’ & ‘C’ scrolls, rocaille decoration, serpentine curves, frozen water forms, volutes, acanthus leaves, and cabriole legs.

Pedestal, Rustic stump

Smithsonian Gardens
Cast-iron pedestal with Rustic tree trunk design. The pedestal is composed of four panels with overlapping edges, which are screwed together creating a hollow structure. The panels look like a tree trunk of thick bark and oak leaves cast in high relief. Around the top is a rim of banded limbs. This pedestal was typically used to support an urn. It was a very popular Rustic design manufactured by several iron foundries. Rustic style was immensely popular in the Victorian era, and the height of its popularity occurred between 1840 and 1890. Rustic objects share a common aesthetic of being artfully assembled with materials harvested directly from nature to create a variety of furnishings and decorative objects for the home and garden. Rustic furnishings and accessories were thought to be especially suited to the garden, as they blended in with the natural landscapes. Rustic materials and motifs include tree branches, twigs, roots, burls, bark, pinecones, acorns, seashells, animal horns, and antlers. Rustic designs were often constructed from found objects or were cast or carved to appear like these articles. Rustic objects were usually irregular and asymmetrical to mimic the forms that would occur in nature. Rustic designs could be made following instructions in contemporary publications, but the popularity of the style led to the mass production of Rustic style pieces.

Pedestal, Rustic stump

Smithsonian Gardens
Cast-iron pedestal with Rustic tree trunk design. The pedestal is composed of four panels with overlapping edges, which are screwed together creating a hollow structure. The panels look like a tree trunk of thick bark and oak leaves cast in high relief. Around the top is a rim of banded limbs. This pedestal was typically used to support an urn. It was a very popular Rustic design manufactured by several iron foundries. Rustic style was immensely popular in the Victorian era, and the height of its popularity occurred between 1840 and 1890. Rustic objects share a common aesthetic of being artfully assembled with materials harvested directly from nature to create a variety of furnishings and decorative objects for the home and garden. Rustic furnishings and accessories were thought to be especially suited to the garden, as they blended in with the natural landscapes. Rustic materials and motifs include tree branches, twigs, roots, burls, bark, pinecones, acorns, seashells, animal horns, and antlers. Rustic designs were often constructed from found objects or were cast or carved to appear like these articles. Rustic objects were usually irregular and asymmetrical to mimic the forms that would occur in nature. Rustic designs could be made following instructions in contemporary publications, but the popularity of the style led to the mass production of Rustic style pieces.
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