Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

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.

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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.

March 18 2014 1:00 PM

A Brooklyn Woman's Colorful Quilt, Illustrating Her Experience of the Civil War  


Lucinda Ward Honstain, resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, pieced and sewed this quilt in 1867. It depicts her view of life before, during, and right after the Civil War. The quilt is familiarly known as the “Reconciliation Quilt,” and it fetched the record highest price for a quilt at auction ($264,000, at Sotheby’s in 1991).

March 17 2014 11:15 AM

How Guests at Late 19th-Century Luxury Hotels Ordered Up Their Sherry and Manservants

This elaborate object is a “Teleseme,” manufactured by New York’s Herzog Teleseme Company and used in Paris’ Élysée Palace Hotel in the 1890s. The Teleseme was designed so that hotel guests could inform staff of a staggering array of wants and needs, without ever speaking with a person. Instructions asked guests to move the pointer, which could be collapsed and extended, to the square that represented their desire (“wine list,” “my maid,” “lemon squash”), and then push the button at the bottom.

March 14 2014 12:15 PM

Searching for the Farmers Who Posed for Government Photographers During the Depression

From 1935 to 1945, the government’s Farm Security Administration paid photographers to document conditions on farms across the United States. Some of the resulting images, made by artists including Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and Ben Shahn, have become iconic representations of life during the Depression. But the agency produced such a large number of photographs (the Library of Congress counts 175,000 negatives in their FSA collection) that it’s easy to lose track of the specificity of the lives that were being documented.

March 13 2014 9:45 AM

Interactive Map Shows Impact of WWII Firebombing of Japan, if It Had Happened on U.S. Soil

When we talk about the bombing of Japan during the World War II, we usually focus on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But before the atomic bombs, the United States had already begun a ruinous campaign of bombing Japanese cities with incendiary weapons. More than 40,000 tons of napalm bombs were dropped on Japanese cities before the atomic bombings took place.

March 11 2014 11:00 PM

Mark Twain's Recommended Reading for Young People

Mark Twain wrote this letter to Charles D. Crane, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Maine, in January 1887. Crane apparently asked Twain for book recommendations for a boy and a girl, as well as to name 12 of his own favorite authors.

March 11 2014 9:00 AM

An Itsy-Bitsy Early 18th-Century Pocket Globe

Among the many interesting historical globes photographed for Sylvia Sumira’s Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power are a few examples of pocket globes. Here is one made around 1715, by Johann Baptist Homann, a German mapmaker working in Nuremberg. It measures 2 ¾ inches in diameter.

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