Valuable Lessons at the National Museum of American History

I am always amazed how much I can learn from a museum trip if I really pay attention. The throngs of young Americans within are too hurried, carefully herded, and happy-to-be-out-of-school noisy to really learn from the exhibits. There is certainly no time to compare the items on display and the museum’s stories behind them to the “facts” taught in school in American History classes.

The National Museum of American History, located in the Kenneth E. Behring Center, is “devoted to the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of the United States.” The 3 million artifacts of American history and culture occupy floors which house the famous Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired our national anthem, Washington’s uniform, Thomas Jefferson’s lap desk, and other war, political, and cultural memorabilia.

I found my 1950 teal stove and oven in the museum. My kids always told me how outdated my kitchen was but I loved this stove that had cooked meals for 55 years for two families and was still operational when I replaced it in 2008 with a modern version. The European in me did not want to discard something that was built to last, all chrome and stainless steel.

Our love affair with travel and on the go eating and drinking was expressed in the vast collection of disposable containers and lids, “lids on the go.”

My first typewriters on which I learned dactylography were in the museum – the Remington manual and the IBM Selectric. I really thought I had arrived when our Dean bought several IBM Selectric typewriters with the approval of the communist party, and we were allowed to learn how to use them in a lab in my first year of college.

I found Grandma’s beautiful turn of the century pedal operated Singer sewing machine. She has created and sewn, without the benefit of a pattern, many wedding gowns, dresses, and suits on this machine – she was the village seamstress, a highly sought-after profession.

Julia Child’s kitchen was on full display with all the utensils, countertops, pots and pans, and dishes that the famous chef had used during her lifetime of television cooking, teaching generations of American women the fine art of French cuisine.

Few knew that Julia Child was also an American spy, hired in the summer of 1942 at OSS, the intelligence agency created by President Franklin Roosevelt as the first centralized U.S. intelligence operation. After initial clerical work, Julia worked directly for OSS Director William Donovan. It was a time when we truly spied on enemies like the Nazis and the communists, not patriotic Americans.

The records of 24,000 former OSS employees had been declassified including Julia Child, John Hemingway, son of Ernest Hemingway, Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, major league catcher Moe Berg, actor Sterling Hayden, and Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police.

The main entrance of the museum displayed temporarily a beautiful red and blue Conestoga Wagon, a white tarp-covered wagon that helped settlers survive by carrying goods over the Allegheny Mountains to the western frontier and then return to Philadelphia and Baltimore laden with agricultural products. These wagons were truly the “commercial life blood of the nation” until the 1850s.

A section of the museum was dedicated to gowns worn by various First Ladies. The piece de resistance was in the center – a very expensive and opulent inaugural ball gown worn by the current First Lady.

Taxidermed heroes on display included the decorated Stubby the dog who sniffed out mustard gas during WWI, Cher Ami, a carrier pigeon who flew missions and was wounded in WWI, and Winchester, General Philip Sheridan’s horse during the Civil War. General Sheridan had the horse stuffed and mounted when he died in 1878. Rienzi carried General Sheridan from Winchester, Virginia, to the battlefield of Cedar Creek. The General awakened his troops to repel a Confederate attack. Rienzi was renamed Winchester in memory of this victorious battle.

I was surprised to find that illegal voting and Reconquista were promoted back in the early 1970. A poster in Spanish said, “SIGAMOS LA CAUSA! Registrese Para Votar,” “FOLLOW THE CAUSE! Register to Vote.” In the middle of the poster, in smaller letters, the very racist phrase appears, “Viva la Raza,” “Long Live the Race.”

Illegal aliens want to break our voting laws by screaming discrimination and racism yet Mexico requires a voter ID card to show proof of citizenship in order to be allowed to vote. Democrats support La Raza’s effort since most illegals vote Democrat, strong believers in big government as a source of success and wellbeing.

Even the very liberal European Union requires proof of citizenship for voting. Yet our Supreme Court has struck down in a 7-2 decision the Arizona law that required proof of citizenship to vote. The federal government is no longer interested in enforcing immigration laws or checking if voters are American citizens. The traditional separation of powers is gone; everything is rubber-stamped according to the decisions of the federal bureaucratic elite in power.

An interesting document dated March 1, 1929, The Ohio Schoolmasters Club, quoted a British observer of Education in the U.S., “The American Schoolmaster will soon be as extinct as the American Bison.” This statement did not miss its mark by much since education is run now by the progressive Department of Education; the schoolmaster is just a head and the mastery involves the progressive platform.

The percentage of male teachers in the U.S. of that time showed an interesting down-spiraling trend – perhaps men were busy fighting wars.
1880 …. 43%
1890 …. 35%
1900 …. 30%
1910 …. 21%
1920 …. 14%
1921 …. 11%
1930 …. ??
ABC News reported in 2008 that the number of male teachers “keeps shrinking, citing reasons such as parent bias, fear of abuse allegations, and low pay.
The current female-dominated trend in the teaching profession explains the obvious; most of the socialist indoctrination that occurs in public schools has been and is done by female teachers and by progressives who write textbooks that alter historical fact, promoting their version of revisionist history.

The most favorite section of the museum with male visitors was “The Price of Freedom – Americans at War.” World War II massive war materiel overwhelmed the Axis enemies, and it would certainly have made the industrial military complex proud today. But the war was a just one then, and America, with the help of its allies, restored freedom to the entire European continent.
– 324,000 aircraft
– 88,000 tanks
– 8,800 warships
– 5,600 merchant ships
– 224,000 pieces of artillery
– 2,382,000 trucks
– 79,000 landing craft
– 2,600,000 machine guns
– 15,000,000 guns
– 20,800,000 helmets
– 41,000,000,000 rounds of ammunition (Numbers from the 1995 Oxford Companion to World War II and The 1993 World War II Databook)

From the Cold War section of the museum, a chunk of the Berlin Wall, the Wall of Shame, bears witness to the evil tyranny of communism. This wall was built in 1961 to separate the Communist section of East Berlin from the free West Berlin section. For ninety-six miles within the city, “concrete slabs, wire-mesh fences, barbed wire, trenches, dog runs, watchtowers, and searchlights” separated brutal oppression from freedom.

On November 9, 1989, eager German family members who wanted to be reunited with their loved ones, climbed the wall and started to chisel and hammer chunks out of the wall. It was so strongly built, only bulldozers could take it down, a symbol of the heavily entrenched and cemented communism.

President Reagan’s words in 1987 became prophetic, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” By 1991 the Soviet Union had broken up into independent nations, the “evil empire” was no more. However, the ideology of the evil empire, communism, is very much alive. With its oppressive iron curtain, it has morphed into the hearts and minds of very young Europeans yearning for the promised utopia, and the disease has spread across the ocean.

The Spotsylvania Tree Stump was a remnant of a stately oak tree shading a meadow outside Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, and witness to a bloody battle between 1,200 Confederates of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and 5,000 Union troops from the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The peaceful meadow became known twenty-four hours later as the Bloody Angle. The same bullets that killed 2,000 combatants of this Civil War battle reduced the majestic oak to a twenty-two inch stump.

A special dark room was dedicated to a huge American flag, 30 by 34 feet, which was raised over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Made of wool bunting with cotton stars by Mary Pickersgill of Baltimore (a professional flag maker) in the summer of 1813, the famous flag has 15 stars and 15 stripes, the official U.S. flag from 1795-1818, It was originally 30 by 42 feet – one star and other pieces were cut out as “patriotic keepsakes” in the 1800s. Mary was helped by four teenagers, her daughter, two nieces, and an African American indentured servant, who stitched together the “broad stripes and bright stars.”

Our flag today is often disrespected by being sold as door mats, underwear, shoes, hats, t-shirts; worse yet, Americans and enemies alike burn our flag to show hatred and contempt for America. Soldiers who have fought to preserve our flag and freedom must be turning in their blood-soaked graves.

The song that became our national anthem in 1931 by Congressional decree was sung at all public ceremonies since Francis Scott Key wrote the words to fit the melody of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” an 18th century British song. It raised the spirits of our nation during the War of 1812 and during the Civil War, gaining more popularity each year. Today many performers alter and dishonor the anthem in the name of misguided artistic expression.

Leaving the museum, I found at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, a plaque which claims to be the spot where in 1814 “The Star Spangled Banner” was first sung in public.

As an economist and teacher, my favorite parts of the museum were those dedicated to technology and currency.

Various steam engines, locomotives, tractors, motorized wagons, first cars, electric cars, buses, boats, station wagons, delivery trucks, elevators, gas pumps, electric pumps, and other motorized items described our technological history in motion.

An original Pennsylvania Turnpike plaza sign described our first long distance superhighway which opened on October 1, 1940 stretching 160 miles from Carlisle to Irwin.

The 1904 Columbia Runabout was the “bestselling car in the United States in 1900 and the first to exceed 1,000 sales.” The Runabout pictured was driven by John Oscar Skinner, superintendent of the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C. until 1932. Wealthy urbanites bought electric cars because battery maintenance was complicated, recharging a battery was not possible in the rural areas, electric rates were high, and mileage between recharges was very low.

The electric car was revived in the 1990s by the California zero-emissions initiative and specs have improved somewhat. Electricity rates are still high, electricity is still produced with coal (49%), batteries are better, mileage between recharges is still low, the 6 recharge stations at the mall in Crystal City are always empty, and very expensive models brick themselves when they run out of charge and must be re-tooled at the factory for the whopping price of $40,000.

Route 66, dubbed the “People’s Highway,” affected American lives in many ways. Route 66, commissioned in 1926, was fully paved by late 1930s. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. John Steinbeck called it the “Mother Road” in the Grapes of Wrath because it allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants affected by the Great Depression to travel to California seeking jobs and a better life. Route 66 gained so much fame, way beyond its utility as a trucking route. It became a road of hope and of starting over, hoping for a better, more successful life, running away from past troubles.

Americans used roads in the 1920-1940s to migrate to new places of employment, to earn a living on the road as salesmen, or by the side of the road running businesses, and to travel for pleasure, seeing the highway as a symbol of independence and freedom. The government built the highways but it was taxpayers who funded them, it was private businesses and entrepreneurs who made it possible as well by building gas stations, garages, and making tires and other car parts.

How easy will it be to pluck Americans from their beloved roads in order to satisfy the environmentalist agenda of sustainability, giving back paved roads to wildlife habitat, and regressing life to a time when humans could only go in their immediate surrounding area?

The road toll in human life began to mount. In 1913 more than 4,000 people died in car accidents. In the 1930s 30,000 people died in car related accidents. It was assumed that people’s behavior caused accidents and a massive campaign began, driven by safety advocates involving engineering, enforcement, and education – educating drivers and pedestrians, designing safer roads, and manufacturing safer automobiles. As we are driven into smaller and smaller cars such as the Smart Car, the environmentalist EPA agenda of saving the environment from car-made pollution is definitely more important than saving human lives.

Not surprising, the museum promotes the existence of scientifically not proven man-made global warming. “Since the 1960s, smog, greenhouse gases, global warming, and strained gas supplies have prompted a new look at electric cars.” There is certainly an abundance of gas in many discovered oil-shale reserves. The problem is that the EPA and the administration refuse to give permits for new drilling and the XL pipeline to bring gas from Canada. There are too many crony-capitalists who carry gasoline by rail who stand to be hurt financially by the approval of the XL pipeline.

An array of Watt-hour meters on display from the 1890s by Thomson, Sangamo, Westinghouse, and Stanley, still operational, measured the amount of electrical energy consumed. Cheap and reliable, valued now at as little as $2, traditional meters are being replaced by their very expensive new cousin, the Smart Meter, sold for around $150, so smart that the digital readout fries in the intense sun after three years, requiring another expensive replacement. The Environmentalist agenda requires and demands the Smart Meters and the interconnected smart grid, a sitting duck to solar flares, cyber-attacks, and spying by government, individual hackers, and companies who pay for “consumer data mining.”

The last interesting section of the National Museum of American History was the money exhibit. Kings and queens have put their images with messages of patriotism, prosperity, and power on coins and paper money. The Shilling (Mary and Phillip II of Spain, 1955), the Ruble (Catherine II, 1762), Byzantine Empire Solidus (Constantine VI and Irene, 780), England 5 pounds (Queen Victoria, 1887), Egypt 80 Drachms (Cleopatra VII, 51-30 BC) are such examples.

Colonists circulated and accepted foreign coins, some reluctantly, such as the Rosa Americana Penny from England (1723). The England Shilling (1676) and Farthing (1614-1625), Peru’s 8 Reales (1756) and 8 Escudos (1699), Brazil’s 12,800 Reis (1730), Mexico’s 2 Escudos (1714), Mexico’s 2 Reales (1621-1665), Mexico Real (1540), France 2 Louis D’or (1710) were examples of foreign coins circulated by colonists.

Because precious metals were not readily available to colonists, the first coins struck in English North America (1607-1765) used silver from the melting down of foreign coins and inscribing them NE (New England) with its minting origin in Massachusetts – the Shilling (1652), the Oak Tree Shilling (1660-1667), the Willow Tree Shilling (1653-1660), and the Pine Tree Shilling (1667-1674).

Colonists also bartered and used local money such as wampum shells, ten-penny nails, and tobacco. Different cultures and areas used strange artifacts as money. Malaysia used the Kedah “Rooster” in the18th century. The Chinese Turkistan used Brick Tea Money in the 19th century. Russia used Blue Glass Trade Beads in the 19th century. Belgian Congo used Katanga Cross about 1900. Pismo Beach, California used Clamshell scrips worth a dollar in 1933. During the Great Depression in 1933, some communities only circulated the clamshell which was worth one dollar.

The gold rush of 1825-1875 in the southeast (Carolinas and Georgia), California in 1848, and across the west furnished private minters with the raw material to make the first coins. The government eventually took over. Gold coins of one, twenty, and fifty dollars appeared.

After so many robberies, killings over gold, and the shaving of coin edges for gold dust, miners realized that paper money was safer. Images of the wild-west appeared on the first paper money. Private banks printed their own money to serve the surrounding community.

The very first federal twenty-dollar coin minted in 1849, known as the double eagle, is considered to be the most historically significant. In early 1933, 400,000 double eagles were minted. When America went off the gold standard, all but twenty coins survived the ordered melting. Of the 18,000 five-dollar gold pieces produced in 1822 by the Mint, all but three were melted down.

Today’s dollar, the “world’s reserve currency” and “petrodollar,” is not backed by anything anymore, not even the full “faith and credit” in our government. The Fed keeps printing/creating $85 billion each month until such time that the Chairman of the Reserve Board decides that the unemployment rate has magically hit 6.5 percent. There is Santa Claus for the very rich and the 47 percent “poor” who pay no taxes. For the rest of us, there is the IRS Scrooge.

I can honestly say that I learned more from artifacts in one day at the National Museum of American History than I was taught an entire semester of American (revisionist) History class in college.

One thought on “Valuable Lessons at the National Museum of American History

  1. I am truly surprised that there is any of our History left in Washington, DC. At the rate it is being bulldozed and erased in places like Paramus, New Jersey soon Walt Disney will be the leader standing in the boat crossing the Delaware River and Orlando will be our Country’s Capital City.

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