Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

April 4 2014 10:15 AM

A New York City Firefighting Map from 1834 Will Make You Very Thankful It's 2014

Before the establishment of the paid, professional Metropolitan Fire Department in 1865, New York City firefighting was an all-volunteer affair. This map, printed in 1834, was intended to mark locations of resources and split the city into districts, so that the many small volunteer fire companies could better handle emergencies.

Video Advertisement

April 3 2014 11:00 AM

Who Was This Kindly Looking Man Who Took Hundreds of Photobooth Selfies in the Mid-20th Century?

An unidentified man took hundreds and hundreds of these small photobooth self-portraits for several decades, beginning in the 1930s. The effect of his series is strangely modern, reminiscent of Web-based projects like Noah Kalina’s “Everyday.” More than 400 of the images stayed together as a collection, and are now on display at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum.

April 2 2014 12:00 PM

One Sailor's Sketched Memories of a World War II Shipwreck


Artist John Kingsley Cook, a wireless officer in the British merchant navy, sailed for Malta on the ship Empire Guillemot in the summer of 1941. The island held strategic importance for the British war effort, and served as a base of operations beginning in 1940.

April 1 2014 10:00 AM

The First Wizard of Oz–Themed Board Game, Sold to 1920s Superfans

Pictured below are the game board, tokens and dice, and box top of the first Wizard of Oz board game, sold by Parker Bros. in 1921. L. Frank Baum published 14 Oz books between 1900 and 1920. Well before the classic 1939 movie came out, the books spawned many theatrical adaptations, as well as saga-themed objects like dolls, figurines, and this board game.

March 31 2014 10:30 AM

The Vivid Gorgeousness of Communist-Era Polish Circus Posters

These circus posters come from an unlikely flowering of artistic expression in Communist Poland. The visual style of the Polish School of Posters, funded and sponsored by state commissions, was characterized by vibrant colors, playful humor, hand-lettering, and a bold surrealism that rivaled anything similar artists in the West were doing at the time. Poland’s state-run circus began commissioning designers in 1962 in what Ylain Mayer, of New York's Contemporary Posters, describes as a campaign to improve its image.

March 28 2014 12:45 PM

The 1897 Petition Against Annexation That More Than Half of All Native Hawaiians Signed

In the 1890s in Hawaii, as American businessmen and politicians wrested political control from the native Hawaiian queen Lili’uokalani and petitioned the American government for annexation, groups of native Hawaiians organized to protest the push for the islands to join with the United States. Below, two pages of a petition against annexation show how organized and widespread that movement eventually became.

March 26 2014 11:45 AM

Dramatic 1908 "Temperance Map" Has the Best Names for the Bad Places Drinkers Will Visit 

This 1908 map depicts the negative consequences of drinking and ungodliness, using an imaginary set of railroad lines, states, towns, and landmarks. The document was a conversion tool, meant for use by devout people hoping to win others to the path of righteousness.

March 25 2014 11:30 AM

The Tank-Building Learning Curve, as Seen in Photos Taken Inside WWII Factories

These photos come from a new book of photographs from Detroit’s wartime factories, Images from the Arsenal of Democracy, by historian Charles K. Hyde. The book takes its title from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Dec. 29, 1940 fireside chat, in which the president called upon Americans to support the new industrial effort to arm American allies: “We must be the great arsenal of democracy … We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice, as we would show were we at war.”

March 24 2014 12:45 PM

Watch the Extremely Simple Short Films That Charmed Late-19th-Century Iowans

This reel of clips comes from a group of brief films that Iowa entrepreneur W. Frank Brinton took from town to town at the very beginning of the film era. The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives has recently restored the movies, which sat in a basement for almost the entirety of the twentieth century. 

March 19 2014 2:15 PM

Tubercular? Insane? Polygamist? Things That Could Exclude You From Emigrating to the US in 1910

This 1910 letter, drafted by the Department of Commerce and Labor’s U.S. Immigration Service for the Inspector in Charge in Galveston, Texas, summarizes the provisions of current immigration policy. The letter was originally intended for use at Ellis Island. Penciled in are suggested adaptations for Galveston, a port city that served as the gateway for 150,000 immigrants between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I.

READ MORE STORIES