Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Jan. 23 2014 12:00 PM

1919 Map of New York City's Manufacturers Shows a Bygone Industrial Landscape

This map, printed by the Merchants’ Association of New York in 1922, shows industrial activity in the city, as reported to the 1919 Census of Manufactures. The map was meant as a promotional tool—beige areas represent areas “available for industrial development”—and to boost the city’s profile in the larger business community.

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Jan. 22 2014 12:00 PM

How Londoners Died in One Plague-Ridden Week in 1665

In 16th- and 17th-century London, in response to recurrent epidemics of bubonic plague, authorities instituted the tradition of publishing a bill of mortality each week. The “Great Plague of London,” which hit the city in the summer of 1665, is estimated to have killed between 75,000 and 100,000 Londoners (out of a total population of about 460,000). This page represents the death tally of all city parishes for the week of Aug. 15-22, 1665, when the plague had infected 96 of the 130 parishes reporting.

Jan. 17 2014 12:00 PM

In Suggestions for Victorious Bus Boycotters, MLK's Powerful Turn Toward Nonviolence

This document, drafted by the Montgomery Improvement Association, advised victorious bus boycotters on best practices for riding the newly integrated city bus system.

Jan. 16 2014 11:45 AM

Photos of Contemporary Workers With Ancient Artifacts From the Earliest Histories of Their Jobs

These portraits depict present-day workers alongside ancient Middle Eastern artifacts that date from the very beginnings of their professions. Commissioned by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, they’re taken by photographer Jason Reblando. Reblando made the images using a tintype process, which lends them a patina of age.

Jan. 15 2014 1:00 PM

Gen. Patton's 1943 Memo Accusing Mental Casualties of Cowardice

A number of U.S. military officers doubted the legitimacy of mental casualties during World War II. Some presumed that soldiers who claimed to have suffered nervous breakdowns on the battlefield were malingering to avoid serving in harm's way. Nothing reflected that attitude more than this order from Gen. George S. Patton to all commanders in the Seventh Army, then stationed in Italy, on Aug. 5, 1943.

Jan. 14 2014 11:40 AM

The Battered First-Aid Kits That Accompanied Early-20th-Century Explorers on Their Journeys

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, publicity-minded British pharmaceutical firm Burroughs Wellcome & Company placed its “Tabloid” first-aid kits on several famous expeditions. During that time, American and British media regularly featured stories of adventure in the polar reaches, the colonies of the British Empire, and the high seas. By associating their medicine chests with these endeavors, Burroughs Wellcome capitalized on the popular craze for exploration.

Jan. 13 2014 12:20 PM

A Pretty 1940 Map of American Diversity, Annotated by Langston Hughes

This map, issued by the Council Against Intolerance in America in 1940, shows the ethnic groups living in the United States, offering a picture of their geographical locations, typical employment, and religious commitments. The document was owned by poet Langston Hughes, and is collected in his papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Jan. 10 2014 10:00 AM

Some Everyday Words That Meant Really Different Things to Early American Colonists

Joan P. Bines’ Words They Lived By: Colonial New England Speech, Then and Now is a collection of words that are still familiar today, but that were used in totally different ways in colonial New England. Bines, director of the Golden Ball Tavern Museum in Massachusetts, follows words in several categories (work, drinking, the military, the sea) from the everyday contexts of colonial life through to the present day. Each word, as you might expect, contains a little story about the way life was once lived.

Jan. 9 2014 12:45 PM

Chart Shows Occupations of Soldiers Most Likely to Be Rejected by the Union Army. (Sorry, Editors, Barkeeps, and Tailors.)

This chart takes a retrospective look at the results of medical examinations performed on prospective Union soldiers during the Civil War. The chart divides total results by conscript’s occupations; its bars show ratios of rejected conscripts to total people examined within each occupation. The chart was included in a report published by the Army’s Provost Marshal General’s Bureau, authored by Jedediah H. Baxter and printed in 1875, that tapped information about 1 million total medical examinations.

Jan. 8 2014 12:15 PM

A Beautiful Driftwood-and-Sealskin Map, Carved by an Inuit Hunter in 1925


Inuit hunter Silas Sandgreen made this map for the Library of Congress in 1925. The map represents the Crown Prince Islands, in Disko Bay, on the west coast of Greenland. Sandgreen carved driftwood to signify the islands’ landmasses, painting the material to mark areas of rocks and vegetation. The driftwood is sewn to sealskin.

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