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In most of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, you can find the same sort of things we see in most of our history books---great men, great inventions, and great wars. The US has always been the very embodiment of the "Great Man" theory of history.

But the Smithsonian also deals quite a bit with cultural and pop history, and that part reveals as much about America as all the other stuff does.

Here are some photos from the Museum:


The room in which the original "Star-Spangled Banner"--the flag that flew over Ft McHenry in 1812--is displayed. Because light is greatly damaging to it, the flag is displayed in subdued lighting, and no photography is allowed.


 Statue of George Washington. Part of the odd American predilection for depicting its national heroes as Greeks. Downtown Washington DC looks like a Greek and Roman temple complex.


The portable desk used by Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.


The Conestoga Wagon. The symbol of the American "Rugged Individual" mythology.


A fire engine from the first municipal fire department in the US, formed in Philadelphia in 1842. It was run by volunteers. Before that, if your house burned, you were on your own.


A "John Bull" locomotive, imported from England in 1831 for one of the first long-distance railways in the US, from Philadelphia to New York.


Steam locomotive, 1896. The railroad networks linked the entire country, allowing raw materials and manufactured goods to move easily between East and West, leading to our economic growth.


Colonial paper money.


Foreign money in use in the early US.


"Greenbacks"--American paper currency.


Longboat from a whaling ship. Whaling was the first global industry to be dominated by the Americans, and led to our entrance on the world stage.


Whaling artifacts.


Steam-powered industrial machinery from the 1910's. America became a major manufacturing power during this time.


The Skinner "Unaflow" engine.


A life jacket from the "Titanic". Although hailed as a rich man's luxury ship, the "Titanic's" real business was taking poor European immigrants to the United States, which desperately needed cheap labor for its huge industrial machine.


Edison lightbulbs from the 1890's. Edison was the great American hero because he illustrated the "great man" principle.


Electric toasters from the 20's and 30's. America has always been driven by the consumer culture.


1913 Ford Model T. Another "great man" and another area of consumer culture.


Motor vehicles from the 40's and 50's. The car replaced the train as our primary transportation network, and our domination of car manufacturing led to our status as an economic superpower.


The Honda Civic of the 1980's--the beginning of the end of our status as economic superpower.


Colonial-era muskets from the War of Independence. The beginning of our long history of warfare.


The colonial gunboat "Philadelphia", sunk in 1776.


British Loyalist Militia uniform. Only about one-third of the colonial population actually favored independence from Britain.


George Washington's uniform.  The epitome of the Great Man, Washington also began our national tradition of electing military heroes as President.


A "four-pounder" French cannon. Were it not for the French military, the colonies would never have won independence.


Andrew Jackson's uniform.  Another military hero elected President.


Artifacts from the Mexican-American War.


General McClellan's uniform from the Civil War Battle of Antietam.


General William T Sherman's hat and saber from the Civil War.


An encrusted bugle recovered from the wreck of the battleship "Maine", 1898.


Uniform from the Spanish-American War.


Uniform from the First World War.


World War One weaponry--Lewis gun, grenades, artillery shell.


World War Two weaponry--flamethrower, mortar, Browning Automatic Rifle.


World War Two bazooka.


Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War.

US uniforms and weaponry from Vietnam.


Viet Cong and North Vietnamese uniforms and equipment.


Peace sign, a banner used in anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960's.


Pieces of the Berlin Wall.


Uniforms of General Powell and General Schwarzkopf from Desert Storm.


"The football".  The briefcase used during the Clinton Administration to carry the codes necessary to launch nuclear weapons.


A piece of wreckage from the World Trade Center, 9-11.


A uniform from the 2002 invasion of Iraq, and anti-war posters.


Anti-war buttons from the Iraq invasion.  You know a war is unpopular when the Smithsonian features anti-war artifacts.


Popular culture at the Smithsonian. A banner carried in suffragette rallies in the 1900's.


Pins, pennants, and a banner from the suffragette movement.


Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina, 1960--site of the civil rights sit-in.


A "living history" presentation about the civil rights movement.


Presidential campaign items.


Presidential campaign buttons.


The Barbie Doll and GI Joe, American icons of the military hero and the unattainably beautiful heroine.


 C3PO costume worn by actor Anthony Daniels in the Star Wars movies.


Archie Bunker's chair, from the TV show "All in the Family".  Back when open right-wing bigotry was satirical.


Kermit the Frog.


Space suit worn by Alan Shepard, the first American in space.


The Apple II computer.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 06:47 AM PST.

Also republished by Shutterbugs.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have never subscribed to the "Great Man" theory (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, RiveroftheWest

    of history. Social change comes through a process of evolution brought about by economic and cultural forces. Prominent individuals may symbolize them and represent them, but they don't create or even direct them.

    Social changes are made by people---lots and lots of little people. The "Great Men" just make the speeches.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 06:52:15 AM PST

    •  You're right that change takes many people, (0+ / 0-)

      but it's true too that one person in the right place at the right time can really make a difference. Nice diary, LF.

      By the way, the beautiful big Conestoga Wagon wasn't commonly found on the western trails; it was too tall and heavy, and required real roads. Most wagons on the Emigrant Road (later the Oregon Trail) were smaller, reinforced farm wagons that could be dragged through mile after mile of sand, dust and mud. There were exceptions, of course -- there always are!

  •  My favorite room in that museum is the hall of the (3+ / 0-)

    First Ladies.

    Yes, DailyKos DOES have puzzles! Visit us here Saturday nights @ 5:00 PDT (easier puzzles) and Sunday nights @ 5:00 PDT (more challenging) for a group solving. Even if you just pop in and comment while watching the fun, everybody is welcome. uid:21352

    by pucklady on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:15:30 AM PST

  •  I am a "museum rat," generally, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, RiveroftheWest

    and I LOVE the Smithsonian. One time I remember going there I was in my early teens. At the time, they had an exhibit of a disinterred corpse who had died in Pennsylvania in the 1700s and then been accidentally mummified in his grave. He was wearing only socks. The interpretative text said you could tell he had been wealthy because his socks were well-made. Oh, and his male organs were missing. They'd broken off after he died, so you could just see this pit in his groin where they had been.

    Scarred me for life.

    Lots of other great art and historical exhibits, too. I'm overdue for a visit. If I'm in the DC area again, I'll be back there in a flash.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:15:44 AM PST

  •  I was just there! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, RiveroftheWest

    My favorite part was the exhibit on Harry Bridges,  the great labor organizer and leader of the West Coast longshore union, the ILWU.  I was surprised to see him honored.

    The exhibit on energy and maritime transport was 8 years out of day, referring to the vast and increasing amounts of oil and natural gas we imported.  Not so true today.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 08:55:48 AM PST

    •  did they finish the cleanup on the Washington (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      6412093, RiveroftheWest

      Monument yet? Last time I was there they had the whole thing covered with scaffolding.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 09:41:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The scaffolds still go up halfway. n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

        by 6412093 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 10:35:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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