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Michelle Delaney holding the original 1888 Kodak and Larry Bird holding a display of campaign buttons. (Hugh Talman, SI)

American History Museum: Pieces of Our Past

Smithsonian curators probe the meanings of telltale objects

"The teapot reveals how household objects were linked with the political message that was sweeping the American colonies. It also allows us to consider the role of women in society, since it's something women would have used. There are only two or three known to exist in the United States."

Judy Chelnick
Division of Medicine and Science
A saw from a surgical set that belonged to John Maynard Woodworth, who became the first Surgeon General of the United States in 1871

"This saw belongs to a set that has everything required for the amputation of an arm or a leg in the 19th century: six trays of surgical instruments in a rosewood case, knives, saws and bone forceps. I don't know how Woodworth would have transported this, because it's not something that he could have strapped on the back of a horse.

"Doctors in the 19th century had their own surgical sets. That changed in the 20th century when surgeons began performing procedures at hospitals. This set is one of the finest American surgical sets of the late 1800s, and it's remarkable that all 80 of the original tools are still intact."

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About Anika Gupta
Anika Gupta

Anika Gupta’s writing has appeared in India and the United States, including in Business Today magazine, where she serves as its first digital content editor, the Hindustan Times newspaper and Smithsonian magazine.

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