Smithsonian Magazine October 2021

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

United States
Smithsonian Institute
11 期号


what it takes

IN 1978, during graduate school, I headed down to the National Mall to talk to a man about a job at the National Air and Space Museum. I walked into the office of S. Dillon Ripley knowing very little about the museum world, sporting casual jeans, an afro and my favorite army officer jacket with a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” patch on the sleeve. Imagine my surprise when I walked out of that meeting with a job offer that would change the trajectory of my career. Decades later, I find myself thinking back to my predecessors and how their efforts—essential, transformative and even flawed—shape my understanding of the role. Ripley, the eighth Secretary, oversaw the Institution from 1964 to 1984, a period of rapid expansion at the Institution and…


“Thank you for focusing on the resilience of the survivors.” Along for the Ride I’m not a truck guy, but I was completely captivated by Jeff MacGregor’s “King of the Road” (September 2021). What evocative writing. Almost makes me want to trade in my little hatchback. —William Murray | Palatine, Illinois Red, White and Blues The blues are alive in places big and small in the U.S. and in many places around the world (“Blues in a Minor Key,” September 2021). They are authentic American culture. Thanks for taking us back to the roots of the music. —John Lear | Naperville, Illinois Remembering September 11 Thank you for the personal stories from 9/11 (“After 9/11,” September 2021). As the events of the day were unfolding, I was a teacher in Indiana, seemingly far removed from the locations of…

the storm problem

FOR CENTURIES, humans complained about the weather. In 1848, the Smithsonian Institution decided to do something about it. Weather conditions had been considered to be either God’s will or explainable only by homespun nostrums like “Clear moon, frost soon” or by observing, say, the behavior of ants, which don’t like rain. The Farmer’s Almanac promised readers more accurate forecasts when it debuted in 1818, but even those predictions were determined by a “secret formula.” And still are. Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, tried something new: crowd-sourcing. The Institution handed out weather monitoring equipment such as thermometers, barometers and rain gauges to 150 volunteer observers across the country. Each day their localized reports arrived by telegraph, and the Smithsonian generated a national weather map that it displayed on the…

measured responses

THE BIG PICTURE An early meteorograph, a device that combines and charts numerous variables at once, such as temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure. CEILING FIXTURE Meteorologists employed a spotlight and theodolite, like scope surveyors use, to measure the height of cloud cover. The value was derived by triangulating the light source, the reflection on the ceiling and a fixed object nearby. THE WHITE STUFF A snow gauge, in the Northwest in 1917. A quantity of snow collected over a given time span was melted. The water volume indicated the depth of the snow cover. UP AND UP A helium- or hydrogen-filled pilot balloon, circa 1943, rose at a predictable rate; it measured wind speed and direction, as well as cloud altitude. PRECIPITATION SITUATION Reading a rain gauge in the 1920s. The ancients kept track of rainfall, but 17th-century Englishman…

material witness

IN 1812, CATHERINE PAUL moved from Greenwich, Massachusetts, with her husband, William, their four sons and William’s widowed mother to the frontier town of Solon, in what would become the state of Maine. There, Catherine sewed this quilt, embroidering it with images of family members and the tower of the town meeting house. It’s part of a new show opening this month at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston of 58 quilts and bedcovers spanning 400 years of U.S. history, including masterpieces by African American artisans in the rural South, tributes to Civil War soldiers and the transcontinental railroad, and modern works that push boundaries both aesthetic and political. Often patched together from myriad scraps of fabric, quilts have long offered an easy metaphor for the diversity of a…

the other sparta

ANCIENT SPARTA has been held up for the last two and a half millennia as the unmatched warrior city-state, where every male was raised from infancy to fight to the death. This view, as ingrained as it is alluring, is almost entirely false. The myth of Sparta’s martial prowess owes much of its power to a storied feat of heroism accomplished by Leonidas, king of Sparta and hero of the celebrated Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). In the battle, the Persian Army crushed more than 7,000 Greeks—including 300 Spartans, who are widely and falsely believed to have been the only Greeks fighting in that battle—and went on to capture and burn Athens. Outflanked and hopelessly outnumbered, Leonidas and his men fought to the death, epitomizing Herodotus’ pronouncement that all Spartan soldiers…