U.S. History

“Bessie Coleman (above: with her Curtiss JN-4 "Jennie" in her custom designed flying suit, ca. 1924) was a real gutsy woman for the era,” says Dorothy Cochrane, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. "Anyone else might have quit at any time.”

For Pilot Bessie Coleman, Every 'No' Got Her Closer to 'Yes'

Despite fierce obstacles in her path, the Black female aviator became a hero that would pave the way for generations to come

In the show, the promises and tensions of emerging modern life can be seen most vividly through the eyes of two invented characters: Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), Agnes’ poor niece who has come to stay with the van Rhijns, and Peggy (Denée Benton), Agnes’ Black secretary.

Based on a True Story

The True History Behind HBO's 'The Gilded Age'

Julian Fellowes' new series dramatizes the late 19th-century clash between New York City's old and new monied elite

Some say the dish can be traced back to logging camps at the beginning of the 20th century, but others cite chili and cinnamon rolls as a once-essential part of their school lunch programs. 

What's Up With the Pairing of Chili and Cinnamon Rolls?

Why kids across the western United States came to find the unlikely combination in their school lunches

Harry Hall, Campbell's chief agricultural expert, inspects tomatoes in his office at Campbell's research farm in Cinnaminson, New Jersey sometime in the 1920s.

How Campbell Soup Turned New Jersey Into a Tomato-Growing State

The canned food company's tomato breeding program was responsible for developing several important varieties

The Donner Summit tunnels and 13 others in the Sierra Nevada built by Chinese railroad workers remain a testament to ingenuity and industry. 

The Quest to Protect California's Transcontinental Railroad Tunnels

Built by Chinese immigrants in the 1860s, the caverns cutting through Donner Summit helped unite the country

Lieutenant Colonel Almon F. Rockwell (center) was a longtime friend of President James A. Garfield (right). He was also one of roughly 25 people present at Abraham Lincoln's (left) deathbed.

This Man Was the Only Eyewitness to the Deaths of Both Lincoln and Garfield

Almon F. Rockwell's newly resurfaced journals, excerpted exclusively here, offer an incisive account of the assassinated presidents' final moments

Ben Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis, ca 1785

Ben Franklin Lives in Your Smartphone

The 18th-century inventor discovered concepts that impact modern technology

A first edition of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), written while the poet was enslaved to John Wheatley of Boston. The book has a brown leather cover, the original Morocco spine label and a frontispiece featuring a portrait of Phillis by Scipio Morehead.


 

Women Who Shaped History

How Phillis Wheatley Beat All Expectations

The Revolution-era Boston establishment couldn't believe that the young African American woman wrote the exquisite book of poetry

Arnold Bertonneau of New Orleans, Robert Smalls of South Carolina and Anderson Ruffin Abbott of Toronto.

Meet the Black Men Who Changed Lincoln's Mind About Equal Rights

During the Civil War, these individuals convinced the president, altering the course of U.S. history

A 1930s couple rings in the new year with party blowers and streamers. New Year's Eve celebrations only began incorporating countdowns decades later, with the first crowd countdown in Times Square taking place in 1979.

Why Do We Count Down to the New Year?

A historian traces the tradition's links to space travel, the Doomsday Clock and Alfred Hitchcock

Finds unveiled in 2021 included a wooden falcon that originally belonged to doomed queen Anne Boleyn, an intact ancient chicken egg and a dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

Cool Finds

Ninety-Nine Fascinating Finds Revealed in 2021

The year's most exciting discoveries include a Viking "piggy bank," a lost Native American settlement and a secret passageway hidden behind a bookshelf

The Moores' younger daughter, Evangeline, donated this locket and other personal artifacts to the Smithsonian in 2013.

This Locket Memorializes a Black Activist Couple Murdered in a Christmas 1951 Bombing

Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore attracted the KKK's ire for their tireless promotion of civil rights in the Jim Crow South

A 1918 photo of a Christmas tree for horses in Washington, D.C.

When Humane Societies Threw Christmas Parties for Horses

Held across the U.S. in the early 20th century, the events sought to raise awareness for poor living conditions and offer the animals a holiday respite

The 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life stars James Stewart as down-on-his-luck George Bailey and Donna Reed as his wife, Mary.

What 'It's a Wonderful Life' Teaches Us About American History

The Christmas classic, released 75 years ago, conveys many messages beyond having faith in one another

The author of a penetrating new book, documenting the multi-layered complexities of the Miss America pageant (above: 1921, Atlantic City), writes about the contest's ongoing battle to remain relevant over its century of historic highs and lows.

How the Swimsuit Showdown Shaped the Miss America Contest

A new behind-the-scenes book, “There She Was,” and a Smithsonian collecting initiative celebrate the pageant’s centennial

Being the Ricardos features Nicole Kidman (left) as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem (right) as Desi Arnaz.

Based on a True Story

The True History Behind 'Being the Ricardos'

Aaron Sorkin's new film dramatizes three pivotal moments in the lives of comedy legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Elon Musk, after securing a $2.9 billion NASA contract for SpaceX, recently hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

The Return of America's Celebrity Inventor

In a new book, Smithsonian historian Eric S. Hintz traces the rise and fall, and rise again, of the maverick inventor

The capsized hull of the U.S.S. Oklahoma (right) is visible next to the U.S.S. Maryland.

The Story Behind Pearl Harbor's Most Successful Rescue Mission

Eighty years ago, civilian Julio DeCastro and his colleagues at the Hawaii base's naval yard saved 32 sailors trapped inside the U.S.S. "Oklahoma"

"There isn't a Christmas that goes by that I don't sing 'Oh Holy Night,'" says Irma Thomas (above: in 2019 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival) "If you listen to all the verses, it tells a beautiful story."

Irma Thomas' Rendition of 'O Holy Night' Is a Marvel From Beginning to End

Soulful Christmas music is an obsession for Bill Adler, so he interviewed the singer of one of his favorite songs

On Brooklyn's Hegeman Avenue, one of the centers with a rooftop playground spans an entire city block.

New York City's Unsung Monuments to Working Moms

Across the five boroughs, dozens of daycare centers stand as survivors of a massive effort in the 1970s to quickly grow a publicly funded childcare system

loading icon