The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
From Nobel Prize medals to the beribboned gold disks handed to famous athletes, the Smithsonian Institution storage rooms contain many of the physical artifacts bestowed upon accomplished people or to commemorate extraordinary events.
Among the thousands of photographs at the Smithsonian Institution Archives are another type of historical record – the press releases and publicity photographs that accompanied announcement of an award. Not every award ceremony featured white ties, brass bands, and applauding audiences but every one of them did celebrate, with a handshake and sometimes a banquet, an important accomplishment for the honoree.
This slide show features a selection from thirty years of engineering and scientific awards from the Science Service biographical morgue.
Record Unit 7091, Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Smithsonian Exhibit Celebrates 100 Years of the Nobel Prize, Lemelson Center, National Museum of American History
Medals, National Air and Space Museum
For our next Miscellaneous Adventure, you voted to open Record Unit 351, National Air and Space Museum, Photographs, 1922-1958, 1963-1966, Box 1, Folder Miscellaneous Photographs. There are actually four folders titled Miscellaneous Photographs in Box 1, so I chose to open the first folder. This folder essentially can be divided into two parts. The first half of the folder contains photographs of a balloon, and the second half contains images of Secretary Carmichael and assorted visitors in the aeronautics exhibits at the Arts and Industries Building.
The images of the balloon caught my eye the moment I saw them, but there were no captions on the back, only credit line stamps relating to the U.S. Signal Corps. However, located at the very back of the folder were two pages of a letter containing descriptions for each of the numbered photographs, allowing me to dig a little deeper. It turns out, these photos are of war balloons used by the United States Army Signal Corps, including one used for aerial reconnaissance during the Battle of Santiago in 1898. The idea was that the balloon could be taken to the desired location and inflated, used to determine the whereabouts of enemy troops from the air, and then report those locations to allied troops on the ground. Although the crew did successfully locate enemy troops during the Battle of Santiago, the balloon gave away the location of the allied ground troops and presented an easy target for enemy fire. The bullet holes combined with insufficient fuel for multiple inflations made it so that the balloon could not be used again during the battle.
The use of balloons in the Army was encouraged by Brigadier General Adolphus Washington Greely who saw the importance aeronautics could play in wartime tactics. Once he realized the downsides to balloons, he pushed the Army to consider other options, which included providing Samuel P. Langley, third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, with $50,000 to build his aerodrome.
Vote Folder A for Accession 94-043, F. Raymond Fosberg Papers, c. 1945-1993, Box 6, Miscellaneous Ceylon materials, 1974-1976 (2 folders)
Vote Folder B for Accession 91-176, Wurdack, J. J, John J. Wurdack Papers, c. 1949-1986, Box 3, Folder Miscellaneous 1950-1959
Signal Corps Regimental History, United States Army
Miscellaneous Adventures, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives