Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

June 4 2014 9:43 AM

Intense Footage from Fighter Plane Gun Cameras Shows American Raids on Germany in 1945

In this 1945 silent footage, taken by gun cameras mounted on American P-38 fighter planes, you can see the strafing of German targets like trains, bridges, ships, and oil storage tanks from an aerial perspective.

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June 2 2014 2:18 PM

A 1940s Government Comic Book for People Who've Just Had DDT Sprayed on Their Walls

The U.S. Public Health Service distributed this folding informational comic to people whose homes had recently been sprayed with DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), to explain the way that the chemical would kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The comic is preserved in the great digital collection of government comics maintained by the library of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

May 30 2014 3:05 PM

Where To Find Historical “Redlining” Maps Of Your City


During the Depression, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a New Deal agency, refinanced mortgages for over a million struggling homeowners. As part of this work, the agency sent out assessors who rated neighborhoods based on several factors: housing stock, sales and rental rates, physical attributes of the terrain, and “threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population.”

May 29 2014 1:15 PM

What Does This Mean? If Russia Gets Gay With Us She’ll Have Some Pretty Muscular Soldiers to Meet

In the era of Vladimir Putin’s territorial aggression and official homophobia, this 1903 trade magazine ad takes on resonances its copywriter never intended.

May 28 2014 3:30 PM

A Chinese-American Merchant’s Blistering Arguments Against Chinese Exclusion


The blog of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center recently wrote about this 1879 letter from Chinese-American merchant Wong Ar Chong to activist William Lloyd Garrison. As the Smithsonian points out, “Chinese-American voices were rarely heard during the national debate over Chinese exclusion that swept the United States in the 1870s and early 1880s.” Wong’s letter—written in English, which was his second language—gives us the political perspective of a Chinese-American tea merchant living in Boston.

May 27 2014 12:30 PM

An 1886 Map of San Francisco’s Booming Business District—Including Levi Strauss & Co.

This 1886 directory map shows every San Francisco business north of Market Street, between Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) and today’s Embarcadero.

May 23 2014 2:15 PM

His Son Killed in Action, Theodore Roosevelt Longed to Go to War

In this letter, written a month after his son Quentin, a pilot, was shot down over the Marne River in France, 60-year-old Theodore Roosevelt wishes he could join the fight.

May 22 2014 9:30 AM

A Jazz Age New York Bohemian Dinner, in List Form


In this wry list, writer and artist Charles Green Shaw tried to capture the experience of attending a “bohemian dinner” in New York’s Greenwich Village. Though the list, held in Shaw’s papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, is undated, Shaw lived in New York in the 1920s and 1930s, writing for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. It seems likely that this list dates to that time.

May 21 2014 11:30 AM

The Beautifully Illustrated Family Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers

Families of Revolutionary War veterans applying for government pensions had to prove their relationship to the soldier in question. Many of them included illustrated family records in their petitions for payment, which are now kept at the National Archives. (Here are a few pages with more examples of this kind of record.)

May 20 2014 11:40 AM

1909 Advice for Lady Motorists, in Pictures

Dorothy Levitt raced cars in some of the sport’s first years, entering her first contest in 1903. In her association with Napier & Son, an early British automobile manufacturer, Levitt maintained a rigorous racing schedule and held several speed records during the first decade of the 20th century.

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