The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Dec. 12 2014 1:44 PM

Spin a 3-D Representation of a Beautiful 17th-Century Celestial Globe 

The 1603 Sphaera stellifera globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu showcases cutting-edge 17th-century astronomy in three dimensions. Designed by printmaker Jan Saenredam, it is also stunningly beautiful. It features highly accurate observations of the Northern Hemisphere, and pictures the newly discovered constellations of the Southern sky, offering them as heavenly proof of the success of the Dutch colonial enterprise.

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Dec. 11 2014 12:47 PM

An Inventory of Robert E. Lee’s Personal Property, Left in His Mansion and Seized by the Government

Union soldiers occupied Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s home in Virginia, soon after the beginning of the Civil War. This inventory was taken in 1863, for “U.S. v. all the Rights, Titles, of Robert E. Lee,” a suit brought against Lee for nonpayment of property taxes. The list shows the extent of furnishings left in the large house, even after Lee’s wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis had moved many of the more valuable items for safekeeping.

Dec. 9 2014 10:52 AM

An Early Arctic Explorer's Dramatic Drawings of the Frozen North

Arctic explorer Sir John Ross drew these images while captaining the first 19th-century British search for the Northwest Passage. The drawings were engraved in London, and published in 1819, the year after the Ross expedition, as part of the book A Voyage of Discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in His Majesty’s ships Isabella and Alexander, for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, and inquiring into the probability of a north-west passage. 

Dec. 8 2014 1:26 PM

FDR’s First Draft of His “Day of Infamy” Speech, With His Notes

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt drafted his Dec. 8, 1941 speech to Congress without the aid of his speechwriters, dictating to secretary Grace Tully. This draft shows the quick annotations and edits that the President made on a first pass; an article in the National Archives’ magazine Prologue contains pages from updated drafts two and three, as well as the final version.

Dec. 5 2014 12:02 PM

Nifty Methods for Smuggling Contraband, From a Manual for WWII-Era British Spies 

The Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, used by British spies sent to the Continent to track Nazi movements and aid resistance fighters during World War II, has been recently reprinted by the Imperial War Museum. These pages from the back of the two-volume catalogue, which was published in 1944 and 1945, show a few of the ways that the Special Operations Executive (the name for the secret British agency charged with training and deploying these agents) managed to sneak arms and ammunition to its operatives.

Dec. 3 2014 12:15 PM

Map Shows Where the Juvenile Delinquents Lived in Depression-Era D.C.

This 1936 map of Washington, D.C. pinpoints residencies that had produced kids recently designated “juvenile delinquents.” The data for the map came from the District of Columbia’s Juvenile Court. The red marks on the map, which look similar from afar, are shaped differently: Stars mean “white girls”; squares are for “white boys”; circles indicate “colored girls”; and triangles denote “colored boys.”

Dec. 1 2014 12:46 PM

How to Employ Women in Government Jobs: Postwar Advice Drawn From the American Experience

At the end of World War II, writes archivist David Langbart on the National Archives’ Text Message blog, a British committee charged with looking into the practice of barring married women from serving in the UK’s civil service wrote to ask the American Civil Service Commission its opinion on the matter. This document contains replies from Lucille Foster McMillin, then the acting president of the Commission.

Nov. 28 2014 9:23 AM

A 17th-Century Argument for the Many Virtues of Coffee, Chocolate, and Tea

In this 1690 broadside advertisement, London merchant Samuel Price deployed rumor and vivid anecdote to advance the medical case for drinking coffee, chocolate, and tea. Forty years after the opening of the first coffeehouses in London, Price, who had “really and truly prepared and compounded” coffee and chocolate for sale, circulated this text that argued that people should drink these beverages at home, and often.


Nov. 26 2014 11:53 AM

A Beautiful Depression-Era Route Map Makes Transcontinental Bus Travel Look Glamorous

A 1935 promotional map for Pacific Greyhound shows the long reach of the bus company, when its regular schedules were combined with routes of regional affiliates. Printed a few decades after the founding of the company that would become Greyhound, the map shows how quickly Americans took to the idea of interstate bus service.

Nov. 25 2014 12:32 PM

How Railroads Advertised for Homesteaders to Settle in Indian Territory 

As 19th-century homesteaders moved west, the lands in present-day Oklahoma where eastern tribes had been resettled after removal earlier in the century came under threat of settlement. This flier, printed on behalf of the Kansas City, Lawrence, & Southern Railroad in anticipation of the opening of unassigned lands in the state’s “Indian Territory,” shows how railroads whipped prospective emigrants into an anticipatory frenzy. “The rush will be great, and early comers will have every advantage,” the flier warns.