People often talk about the Smithsonian Museum as if it is one museum. The Smithsonian Institution is one organization, but the museum is actually 19 museums, many too large to see in a day. The collection is amazingly large with so much history being demonstrated with the actual items. The American History Museum items ranged from the Hope Diamond to Julia Child's kitchen.
Even if the items are very large, they find a way to display them so you can get up close and personal.
This Wright Brothers plane is a replica, but the other planes are the actual plane that made history, including the Spirit of St. Louis that was the first plane to cross the Atlantic nonstop, and Bert Rutan's Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world nonstop. Did you know that Orville Write built a wind tunnel to test wing designs? Or, that the upper wing surface shape he developed is very close to the shape used today? Or, that he was the first to use aluminum in internal combustion engine construction? His calculations indicated that he needed 12 horsepower to fly the plane, which in those early days of engine design required a 4 cylinder engine. The engine manufactured for him weighed too much, so he took it back and had the manufacturer cast the crankcase in aluminum. History is more exciting when you can actually see it.
Aircraft were the field of technology in the early 20th century, with many different ideas and techniques tried by inventors around the world. Above is a French radial engine with the plane designed for it. The idea tried here was not to mount the propeller to the crankshaft, they mounted the crankshaft to the plane and had the cylinders spin with the propeller. With all that weight spinning it acted as a gyroscope. When the pilots would try to make the plane turn, it would just go straight.
For the defense effort in World War I, Packard designed an airplane engine known as the Liberty Engine. The first version was a V-8 producing 330 horsepower, but it vibrated too much. The engine was expanded to a V-12, producing 400 horsepower, powering over 10,000 planes during the war. Airplane engines had moved from 12 hp to 400 hp in only 14 years.
During World War II, Rolls Royce continued development of their Merlin V-12 engine designed in 1930 and increased its horsepower output from 1000 hp to 2200 hp, an exponential jump in technology from the Wright brothers 12 hp in only 42 years. Then, engineers realized that reciprocating engines, with pistons moving up and down, valves doing the same, was inefficient. The idea of a rotary engine, with all the moving parts spinning smoothly, was explored, with success. Today, we call those rotary airplane engines jets, and the development of high horsepower piston engines ceased. Much detail, but it demonstrates the level examples displayed that makes history come to life. A very, very tiny piece of just one museum, the Air and Space Museum,
For my good friend, Andy, a picture of his favorite American WWII warplane, the P51 Mustang, had to be included in this history segment.
As you walk around Washington visiting the many museums and sights, you never know who you might run into. It is a place where many well-known people live and work. Strike up a conversation and they might invite you over to the house.
OK, OK, I cannot take credit for the above photos; they are images of photos. The National Geographic Society has a museum also, displaying many great photos that have appeared in their magazine.
Photography captures history and, when done well, is art. Photos can capture emotion and give events of history a recorded image to save forever that moment in time.
Speaking of art, the Smithsonian museums include the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.
The National Gallery of Art includes original artwork from around the world, spanning many centuries. The last painting is by Martin Johnson Heade and is included because it probably was painted in St. Augustine. Heade was one of the artists that took advantage of Henry Flagler's hospitality, staying the winter season in a building constructed to provide studios for artists at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, among the buildings now housing Flagler College. While in St. Augustine, Heade painted still lifes of southern flowers, particularly magnolia blossoms, and landscapes of salt marshes.
The Smithsonian has another huge gallery devoted to portraits.
Sculpture is displayed both inside museums and at outside galleries.
The sculpture at right, Monkeys Grasp for the Moon (1), is 4 stories tall, hanging from the skylight to a reflecting pool, at the Shakler Gallery.
American sculptor, Roxy Paine, created a 45 foot high Dendroid, a tree-like sculpture, displayed in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Gardens.
A very small, narrow touch of the history on display in Washington, DC. To have any level of appreciation of the collections and the breadth of topics, one must experience it personally.
(1) The Chinese saying, "monkeys grasp for the moon" is based on a folktale about monkeys who try to capture the moon's reflection in a pool of water. Linking arms and tail to form a chain, they reach down from a tree branch to touch the moon's form as it shimmers on the water's surface. To their dismay, the moon vanishes at the very moment they grasp it. The moral of the story: Those things we work hardest to achieve may prove to be naught but illusion.
Monkeys Grasp for the Moon is an installation of word shapes, each one a representation of the word "monkey" rendered in twenty-one languages and writing systems including Chinese, Japanese, English, Thai, and Braille. The words resemble monkeys, stretched at the beginning and end to form long tails and arms that link together, reaching from the skylight above to the floor far below, where the final monkey hangs poised above a reflecting pool, hoping to catch the moon. (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery)