The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Artist Gabriel Dawe makes rainbows. [via Bored Panda]
- Our Arts & Industries building, the 1st U.S. National Museum, amazes many who visit the National Mall. Learn more about it!
- Some key things you should know about American Indians from the director of our National Museum of the American Indian. [via Washington Post]
- Colombian singer Carlos Vives is donating one of his handcrafted guitars to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. [via Billboard]
- A new podcast about the "truly intrepid" from Atlas Obscura, starting with the story of an Arctic balloonist.
- In D.C. for the holidays? Check out the 187.63 carat Foxfire diamond at our National Museum of Natural History, the largest diamond found in North America. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- The growing interest in the history of hip hop, and how university archives are rushing to save it before it disappears. [via Boston Globe]
- Maya Angelou on how a library saved her life. [via Brain Pickings and NYPL]
Charles Greeley Abbot, fifth Secretary of the Smithsonian, was fascinated by the sun and its power. His sense of wonder and ingenuity knew no bounds. Not only did he study it, but he used his scientific knowledge and skill as an instrument maker to harness the sun’s energy at remote observatories for cooking. He designed, built, and patented a small tabletop cooker for heating water for the Solar Shed in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Castle building, as well as for generating electricity.
Although nowadays using solar energy to do all of these things is common, efficient and cost-effective, in the 1920 and 30s it was an “out there” concept--and generating electricity was the farthest “out there.” Nevertheless, Abbot made it happen when the first solar-powered radio broadcast was made by NBC’s WRC radio station from the South Yard.
On September 30, 1936 an array of curved mirrors were rolled out, focusing sunlight onto tubes filled with water. These water-filled tubes created steam that ran a generator, making enough electricity to power a short radio broadcast. A recording of this broadcast was not made, but no matter how brief it may have been, it proved that the sun’s energy could be harnessed to generate electricity powerful enough for communication.
You can learn more about the history of solar energy at an exhibit opening 11/28/2016 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
The Smithsonian Secretaries: That Tall Man from New York, Part I, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Keeping in Touch, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Accession 86-161, Charles Greeley Abbot Papers, c. 1891-1950s, Smithsonian Institution Archives