Posts Tagged ‘american history’

From India to America: Notable Firsts

Thursday, May 20th, 2010
A Sikh boy gazes outwards with curiosity in Amritsar, India.  Photograph by Murray Stanford

A Sikh boy gazes outwards with curiosity in Amritsar, India. Photo: Murray Stanford

As the second most populous country on the planet, with over 1.18 billion people, India has had a tremendous influence worldwide. Geographically, it is ranked the seventh largest country while boasting the eleventh largest economy in the world. What you may not know is that India’s economy is making great strides—it is now  growing faster than any other in the world. By some estimates, India’s gross domestic product will quadruple by 2020 and even surpass the United States’ by 2050.

Here in the United States, we have seen Indian Americans make great strides with five notable firsts that deserve to be mentioned.

  • Dalip Singh Saund became the first person of Asian descent to join the United States Congress in 1956.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian born American astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 with William Alfred Fowler for their work in the theoretical structure and evolution of stars.
  • Dr. Kalpana C. Chawla was the first Indian American woman to fly into space.
  • Mohini Bhardwaj is the first Indian American Olympic medalist. She won the silver medal with the US gymnastics team at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.
  • And maybe you thought Doogie Howser, M.D. was complete fiction, but Balamurali Ambati, M.D. (born July 29, 1977) was the youngest person ever, according to Guinness Book of Records, to become a doctor. Ambati graduated from New York University at the age of 13 and Mount Sinai School of Medicine at age 17, becoming the world’s youngest doctor in 1995.

You can learn more about Indian Americans on Homespun: The Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and read personal experiences on their blogs —The Indian American Story and Bookdragon.

Have you been to India? Share your story.

Never been to India? That’s okay, you can go on our Mystical India tour!

What does Cairo have in common with the Mississippi River?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo

Civil War era image of USS Cairo

The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairowhich remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.

In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.

It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.

Where Were You During the Inauguration?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Those of us who live in Washington, D.C. can state for a fact 2009′s Inauguration Day was a very cold one indeed. Compared to President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration in 1981 when it was 55 degrees at noon, the Obama ceremony was shockingly cold at 28 degrees with a windchill of 11 at the time of his swearing-in.

But you never would have thought that looking at First Lady Michelle Obama. As millions watched on the National Mall, online, and on television sets around the world, she stood in her lemongrass-colored ensemble (designed by Cuban-American Isabel Toledo) throughout the day as if it weren’t freezing cold out there. Later that night, she changed into the gown created by 27-year-old designer Jason Wu and made her way around Washington, dancing at various balls into the wee hours.

So, where is the Jason Wu gown now? It’s in the National Museum of American History, along with other gowns donated by Mamie Eisenhower,  Jacqueline Kennedy, and Barbara Bush.

And for the record, the First Lady was fully aware of how cold it was on that night.

Get a behind-the-scenes experience on our Destination Smithsonian  programs, where you and your family will get up close and personal with objects in the Smithsonian’s various collections.

Where were you during the Inauguration Night? Share below.

Photo: Historic Savannah

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
Victorian Homes in Savannah

Victorian homes in Savannah

There are few southern cities that survived the Civil War as well as Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1733, the city has seen its fair share of tragedy, including fire, war, disease, and its unique connection to voodoo culture. As a result, the American Institute of Parapsychology named Savannah “America’s Most Haunted City” in 2002.

But Savannah is more than spooky ghost stories. Despite its colorful past, it is recognized as one of the most historically preserved cities in the United States thanks to a caring community who pride themselves on old fashioned southern hospitality. There are over 40 blocks of gorgeous architecture with 150-year-old oak trees and Spanish moss hanging over cobblestone streets.

The city is also well known for having a thriving art culture, largely due to the creative students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for the more traditional art fan, there are the Telfair Museums, comprising of the Telfair Academy, the Owens-Thompson House, and the Jepson Center. The Telfair is the oldest art museum in the South and was founded in 1883. The museum has now expanded into three buildings and represents art from the 19th century to the contemporary arts.

Experience art and history in Savannah for yourself! Book your Springtime in the Old South tour by December 26 and save $200 per person

Which Southern City is your favorite?