The Smithsonian Institution Archives makes thousands of historic images of the exhibits, events, and happenings at the Smithsonian available online and, as the year comes to a close, we thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the year’s most popular Smithsonian History images. You can search the History of the Smithsonian catalog at siris.si.edu to find your own favorites. Though we have images from the 1840s to the 21st century, from zoology to technology to history, there’s a clear theme to this year’s favorites.
- The Star Spangled Banner: This photo of the Star Spangled Banner is consistently our most popular photo. Not surprising, given that this is one of the most popular artifacts in the National Museum of American History. It was the Garrison flag of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD, when Francis Scott Key watched the bombardment of the fort during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. Though we don’t know when this was taken, our best guess is sometime around the 1940s.
- Foucault Pendulum and the Star-Spangled Banner: Despite being black and white, this photo of the Center Hall of the National Museum of American History was taken in 1993. If you look carefully, the clothes are often the giveaway. It shows the Center Hall as it was prior to its 2008 renovation. Right next to each other, you can see that the Foucault Pendulum was just as popular as the Star-Spangled Banner.
- Star-Spangled Banner, NMAH: Can you sense a theme? This 1964 photo of the Star Spangled Banner is a bright and colorful close up of the flag itself. You can see the detail that makes the flag unique – the added “A” and the holes where people cut away souvenirs, for example.
- Nixon Inaugural Ball, NMHT: This photo of President Nixon’s 1969 Inaugural Ball at the National Museum of History and Technology (now NMAH) shows just one of the many Inaugural Balls that have taken place at the Smithsonian over the years. The main podium was set up right in front of the Star Spangled Banner. Where better to celebrate a President? You can see First Lady Pat Nixon and President Richard Nixon standing to the left of the speaker.
- Star-Spangled Banner in West Wing of Smithsonian Institution Building: Taken in the “Castle” Building, this photo shows the 1914 restoration of the Star Spangled Banner. Laid out on tables, seamstresses added an Irish linen backing to the flag for added stability. The exhibit cases that normally would have filled this room have been removed for the restoration work; however, you can see the model of giant squid still hanging from the ceiling.
- Star-Spangled Banner in A&I: After it’s restoration in 1914 The Star Spangled Banner moved from the Smithsonian Institution Building to the Arts and Industries Building where it was put on exhibit. We know this photo was taken after 1927 because the Spirit of St. Louis, a part of which is just visible in the upper right hand corner, arrived at the museum in that year.
- Nixon Inaugural Ball, NMHT: Taken the same night as #4, this photo’s striking view of the Star Spangled Banner through the Foucault Pendulum highlights the beauty of National Museum of American History’s architecture. In 1969, the Museum was named the National Museum of History and Technology. The museum only became the National Museum of American History in 1980.
- Conserving Star-Spangled Banner: In 1982, more work was done on the Star Spangled Banner. After a long life on display, Conservator Paul Jetta and intern Rosemary Connolly give the flag a thorough, yet gentle, vacuuming.
- Wright Flyer in A&I Building: Though its flight was a major milestone in both American and Aviation History, the Wright Flyer did not arrive at the Smithsonian until December 1948, when this photo was taken. From 1925 to 1948 the plane was on display at the London Science Museum, on loan from Orville Wright after a feud between Secretary Langley and the Wright Brothers. But you can’t entirely get away from the Star Spangled Banner; it’s visible in the background along with the Spirit of St. Louis.
- Star-Spangled Banner, NMHT: The final photo on our top ten list is of, yet again, the Star Spangled Banner. In this 1964 photo you can see some of the structures that kept it safe on exhibit: tapes attached to a supporting backing that secure the topmost portions and a gently sloping rest that bears the weight of the flag.
And my favorite of our most popular photos? You’d probably have to venture a bit further down the list to number fourteen, where you’ll find Secretary Ripley and Uncle Beazley. They are at the opening of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum on September 15, 1967. The energy and sense of fun that comes through is just what a trip to the Smithsonian should be!