The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
Tomorrow the Smithsonian will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the opening of the National Air and Space Museum building. We wanted to add our congratulations to the mix of all night parties, film festivals, and blog posts to celebrate this milestone at the museum. So let’s take a look at a few of the many celebrations that the National Air and Space Museum has seen in its 40 years.
Perhaps the biggest party that the National Air and Space Museum has hosted is a 1985 inaugural ball for newly re-elected President Ronald Reagan. Along side his Vice President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush, the Reagans arrived to celebrate winning another four years in office. Bitterly cold temperatures may have cancelled outdoor celebrations, but inside the museum the winter weather could not cool the high spirits. That night, President and Mrs. Reagan danced beneath the Wright Flyer as they were serenaded from the bandstand . The festivities were themed around ‘We the People: An American Celebration.’ Crowds celebrated in the Milestone of Flight gallery, toasting a fresh start for the American government underneath the Spirit of St. Lewis and the Bell X-1, some of the most important aircraft in our nation’s history.
Just ten years later, the National Air and Space Museum took part in one of the biggest celebrations the Smithsonian has thrown – our 150th birthday party. For this sesquicentennial celebration in 1996 there were twenty three tents set up on the National Mall from for more than ten city blocks. In the Castle building, a new bell was dedicated and rung for the first time as fireworks and a concert rounded out the festivities. As one of the busiest museums of on the Mall, the Air and Space Museum hosted its fair share of the revelers.
However, the party that started it all was one for the record books. The National Air and Space Museum opened during America’s bicentennial and the inaugural festivities were magnified by the celebrations going on around it. On July 1st 1976, just days before 4th of July celebrations unfolded upon the National Mall, President Gerald Ford, the Vice President, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court gathered with the S. Dillon Ripley, Secretary of the Smithsonian, to cut the ribbon and welcome the public to the newest Smithsonian museum.
A radio signal beamed from NASA’s Viking spacecraft, orbiting Mars thousands of miles overhead, activated a machine that cut the opening ribbon on this gleaming new state-of-the-art building. Constructed from the same Tennessee Marble as the National Gallery of Art just across the Mall, glass panels broke up the stately marble and provided a skyscape for the milestones of flight that hung from the ceiling. The Washington Post reported that it was an instant hit, with over eight thousand visitors filling the museum to its official capacity.
Ford Attends NASM Opener, The Torch, August 1976, Smithsonian Institution Archives
SI Celebrates with Birthday Party on Mall, Smithsonian Institution Archives
NASM’s Udvar-Hazy Facility Marks 10 Years, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Louis Purnell, Airman and Curator, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
In John Quincy Adams’ expansive diaries, he refers to his father as venerable (even, toward the end of his father’s life, as “aged and ever-venerated.”). As the first father and son to serve as President (a feat that would not occur again until George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001), venerable seems like an understatement in describing both men. Having a Founding Father as a biological father meant that John Quincy Adams’ life of public service started young, and closely mirrored that of his namesake. But the Adams’ connections extended beyond Capitol Hill and the White House—all the way to the Smithsonian.
The Adams’ always had a strong relationship. Though John Adams was away from home often when his son was young—serving as a leader in the Revolution and the burgeoning new United States—once he began traveling Europe as a diplomat, John Quincy was old enough to come along. There, the younger John was able to become fluent in French, Dutch, Latin and Greek. The older Adams had always placed a high value on education and inquiry, and was impressed by his son’s “vigour and vivacity both of mind and body, for his constant good humor.” John Adams, during this father-son trip through Europe, referred to John Quincy as “the comfort of my life.”
Though John Quincy had long admired his father, and both of his parents’ careers in public service, their trip abroad from 1778-1782 cemented the incredible bond between father and son. It was a bond that was reflected as John Quincy Adams forged his own career in government and public service, which closely mirrored his father’s. Both worked as diplomats, served in Congress (John Quincy Adams writing in his memoirs that “If there is any body of men upon earth for whom more than for any other I ought to cherish any feelings of attachment,… it is the Senate of the United States. My father had the honor of being the first presiding officer. I had for five years that of being one of its members.”) Both were elected to the highest office in the United States-the Presidency.
But beyond that, both men had a high regard for scientific inquiry. John Adams was a founder and charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His son was a president of the Columbian Institute, a learned society made up of politicians and scientists, charted by Congress in 1818. His father (along with the other surviving former Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) was inducted as an honorary member.
Later, when John Adams died in 1826—coincidentally on the same day as Jefferson—members of the Columbian Institute wrote to John Quincy to express their condolences. In his reply to his scientific-minded peers, John Quincy wrote:
Among the testimonials of respect to the memory of those citizens, by which their countrymen have honoured them, none would be more gratifying to them, and none can be more consolatory to their Relatives, than those proceeding from the Literary and Scientific Institutions, in the purposes of which they took a lively interest, and to which they were specially attached in the character of honorary associates.
The Columbian Institute was a forerunner to the Smithsonian, and John Quincy Adams was a strong Congressional supporter of the Smithsonian Institution during its founding. In 1841, the Columbian Institute was absorbed by the National Institute for the Promotion of Science. The National Institute, established in 1840 to develop a National Musuem, collected artifacts gathered by the US Exploring Expedition. Overwhelmed by a growing collection and lack of financial resources, the National Institute’s specimens were transferred to the Smithsonian in 1857 and 1862.
The Adams’ themselves—or, rather, their artifacts—also became part of the Smithsonian about 100 years later. In April of 1951, the Adams-Clement Collection of Presidential Memorabilia became part of the Smithsonian collection, donated by Adams-family descendant Mary Louisa Adams Clement. Among the items donated were over 600 portraits, family jewelry, furniture, letters and other mementos. In the 1951 annual report for the US National Museum, it was described as “the most important collection received by the department during the last year.”
Record Unit 7051, Columbian Institute, Records, 1816-1841, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Presidents, The White House
The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, The National Museum of American History
Today marks the United States’ 100thFlag Day celebration! The day honors the 1777 resolution by the Continental Congress, making the now ubiquitous Stars and Stripes the nation’s flag. The holiday did not become official, however, until 1916.
Now, a hundred years later, let’s take a look at some other interesting flags at the Smithsonian (though not quite as notable as--you guessed it--the Star-Spangled Banner). As part of a 1965 bicentennial celebration of the birth of Smithsonian founder James Smithson, banners were designed to represent the Institution’s different bureaus. All of the flags incorporated what many might recognize from the Smithsonian’s logo today—a sun with alternating straight and wavy rays (called later “the Sun in His Splendor,” representing heat and light), adopted as the official logo in 1966. The logos in the top left-hand corner represent the individual Smithsonian museums and research centers (the dinosaur, for example, was the National Museum of Natural History’s flag!). See if you can find the flag for your favorite Smithsonian museum!
The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner, Smithsonian Magazine
Pointers from the Flag Code, just in time for Flag Day, O Say Can You See? blog, National Museum of American History
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