Spotlight: Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway

This week’s post highlights photographs from RG 30, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR). These images come from series 30-RW and depict the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway from the clearing of land to paving. The series begins with images from 1931 depicting the construction of Skyline Drive, a scenic road that connects to the parkway. There is extensive coverage of bridge construction, ditches, and other drainage features of the road. There are views of the Panorama Hotel Tea Room, Monticello, and the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe marker. A large portion of the negatives were taken by a W. D. Stanton who often photographed from various vantage points to get the best view of his subject.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, spanning 469 miles, is the longest road planned as a single unit in the United States. The plans for the first proposed section of Skyline Drive were approved on June 9, 1931 by the National Park Service and the BPR. Construction of the parkway began in 1935 and was eventually funded by the federal Public Works Administration as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Although the location is unknown for the majority of the negatives, road signs and project signs provide location hints.

Are you the descendant of someone who helped construct the parkway? Let us know in the comments!

Note: The images used in this blog post will be available to download from the catalog in the coming weeks. This series is currently being processed by staff.

Posted in Photo of the Week, Photographs | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Lighthouse Drawings in celebration of National Lighthouse Day

National Lighthouse Day is August 7 and to celebrate, we’re highlighting some architectural drawings and maps relating to lighthouses from our holdings of the Records of the United States Coast Guard, Record Group 26.

Among these drawings are plans for the lighthouse at Alcatraz Island.  Yes, there’s more than a prison there!  The lighthouse at Alcatraz Island was the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast, with the original building being completed in 1854.  The drawings below depict the second tower and dwelling as they were built in 1909, after the original building was torn down after suffering damage during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

One of the more famous lighthouses in the United States, and also the tallest, is the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, NC.  Its cylindrical shape with the lantern at the top and spiral stripes painted down its sides provide an iconic look at the architecture of many coastal beacons.  The stripes act as a daymark for ships to identify the lighthouse along the coast.  Keepers, and visitors today, had to take 257 steps to reach the balcony, which is similar to a 12-story building.

Drawings depicting the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, MI show the design and plan for the stonework.  The stones were laid in multiple courses following specific patterns, with the plans including details for placement of bolts and basic directions for incisions needed to cut the stones.

The lighthouse plans within our holdings also give us a closer look into the lives of lighthouse keepers.  In the days before automation, the keepers most well known duty, was to manage the lantern.  They not only had to light the lamps, but they needed to tend to basic cleaning and maintenance using the proper tools.

Keepers weren’t just there to tend to the lens only.  They also had to maintain other buildings around the light station and keep things running smoothly.  At the light station at Destruction Island, WA, a tramway system would allow them to load supplies from ships offshore to move around to other buildings on the island, such as the fog signal.

Keepers also lived at the light station with their families.  The plans for the station at Marrowstone Point, WA include elevation plans for the fog signal, floor plans for the dwelling and a map showing the proximity of the buildings to one another.  They also include plans for the privy, which was a bit of a walk from the dwelling, reminding us today of an everyday modern amenity that we take for granted.

There are many interesting drawings of lighthouses and of all of the various details that surround them.  Do you have a favorite lighthouse?  Have you visited any of these treasures and been able to make a climb to the top?


Posted in Architectural and Engineering Drawings, Cartographic Records, Maps | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spotlight: Race Horses

This week’s images are from RG 17-HD. They are mounted prints depicting beautiful race horses from the early 1900’s! Accompanying metadata is limited to the captions, which are included with the images below. These captions, affixed to the mounts and written in Spanish, appear to include the date that the photographs were taken and the names of the equestrian subjects. Care to take a crack at translating them?













Posted in Graphic Materials, Photo of the Week, Photographs | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm

In this week of firsts, we consider the women who first ran for major party nominations in the United States: Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm.

Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith won her first seat in the House of Representatives in a special election after her husband, Clyde Smith, died in 1940. One week later, she was already fighting to serve as more than a placeholder when she went up against four male rivals for the primary nomination to retain her seat. She won that battle, and served four terms in the House. Smith moved on to the Senate in 1949 as the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. At that time, Smith was the only woman in the Senate. Although other women were appointed or elected to fill vacancies resulting from deaths, it was another decade before another woman was elected to the Senate and served a full term.


“Senator Margaret Chase Smith” Local Identifier: 306-PS-50-2756 (NAID: 6802716)

As a senator, Smith quickly claimed the national spotlight when she publicly condemned McCarthyism on June 1, 1950. In her “Declaration of Conscience” speech, Smith decried the baseless accusations that were being lobbed about the Senate and defended “basic principles of Americanism” such as “the right to criticize” and “the right to hold unpopular beliefs.” Smith also disparaged the Truman administration and called instead for unity in issues of national security. The speech led many to speculate that she could be a vice-presidential candidate.

A day in the life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith as she considered whether to run for president.

When Margaret Chase Smith decided to run for president in 1964, it was with apparent reluctance. Her principles dictated that she not miss time on the job as a senator, nor would she accept donations for her campaign. In addition, she planned to staff her campaign with only volunteers and would not run ads on television or radio. Clearly this was not a winning strategy, and so Smith’s run for president was largely symbolic. Despite that, Smith won nearly thirty percent of the vote in Illinois, one of two states where she actively campaigned. She also won votes in Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas, where she had no campaign presence. At the national convention in July, Smith became the first woman to have her name put forth for the nomination of a major party, and garnered the votes of 26 delegates.

The lead story in this Universal newsreel shows Senator Smith announcing her run for president at the Women’s National Press Club on January 27, 1964.

Barry Goldwater ultimately won the Republican nomination in 1964, and was defeated by Lyndon Baines Johnson in a landslide. Margaret Chase Smith continued to serve in the Senate until her defeat in the 1972 election. In total, Smith served more than 32 years in Congress.

Shirley Chisholm

Before being elected to the New York State legislature in 1964 (only the second African-American woman to serve in that body), Shirley Chisholm spent nearly two decades in early childhood education. That experience drove much of her political career as she fought for the creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), federal funds to support childcare, and defending the national school lunch program from a veto by President Gerald Ford.

Shirley Chisholm, shortly after her election to Congress in 1968. (306-PSC-68-3539)

Shirley Chisholm, shortly after her election to Congress in 1968. Local Identifier: 306-PSC-68-3539 (NAID: 7452354)

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives. Chisholm was controversial from the start; in her first speech on the floor, she spoke against the war in Vietnam and vowed that she would not vote to approve military funding.

Just as Margaret Chase Smith’s political career was coming to an end, Shirley Chisholm launched her own historic run for the White House. Chisholm was the first black woman to run for the Democratic nomination. Her campaign was divisive, as prominent feminists and black activists backed the seemingly more-electable George McGovern over Chisholm. Chisholm frequently said that she faced more discrimination for her sex than for the color of her skin. Still, Shirley Chisholm’s name appeared on the primary ballots of twelve states and she won ten percent of the delegates at the national convention.

In this clip, from a longer film called Accomplished Women (1974), Shirley Chisholm states that she would be surprised if there were not a woman president within 25 years.

George McGovern won the Democratic nomination and was defeated by Richard Nixon. Shirley Chisholm served seven terms in the House of Representatives before retiring to private life.

For more records featuring Shirley Chisholm, see “Unbought and Unbossed: Shirley Chisholm and the 1972 Presidential Run,” from Rediscovering Black History.

Posted in Films, Motion Pictures, Universal News Collection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hidden Women: The Art of WWI Camouflage (Photos)

If you’ve ever read a Highlights magazine, you’ve likely played the hidden picture game–the one where children are asked to find out-of-place objects like pencils hidden in trees and candy canes hidden in striped dresses.  As I came across photographs from the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps, I was instantly reminded of the classic childhood time-killer.  Only this time, instead of searching for a misplaced golf club in an illustrated drawing, I found myself staring at a real photograph looking for hidden women.

A Living Rock. Women's Camouflage Reserve Corps, of the National League for Women's Service. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-13.

A Living Rock. Women’s Camouflage Reserve Corps, of the National League for Women’s Service. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-13.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, both men and women helped out in the war effort.  Women worked in factories, joined the Red Cross, and participated in a number of military organizations.  In New York City, a group of female art students joined the National League for Women’s Service and trained to serve in the Camouflage Department of the United States Navy.

Women’s Camouflage Reserve Corps sketching the landscape as basis for their camouflage work at Van Cortlandt Park, New York. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-23.

The women's reserve camouflage corps of the National League for Women's Service. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-1.

The women’s reserve camouflage corps of the National League for Women’s Service. Local ID: 165-WW-599G-1.

Allied forces used camouflage in two very distinct ways during in World War I.  The first, and more traditional way, was designed to conceal a soldier in their environment.  The “rock suit,” for instance, was designed to keep the wearer safe from detection at a distance of ten feet.  Similarly, the “observation suit” was designed so the wearer could blend in with the sky, and when needed, turn the suit inside out to blend in with snow and ice.  Female students studied the environment, and apparently tested the suits, in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park before joining the Allied forces in France.

Allied forces also utilized a technique known as “dazzle camouflage.”  Dazzle camouflage was not intended to obscure but to confuse.  Naval ships were painted in abstract patterns with bright colors to make it difficult for German U-boats to determine the speed and precise location of the ship.   Beginning in March of 1918, the United States Navy painted a total of 1250 vessels with the unique design.  Out of the 96 ships sunk by Germans after March 1918, only 18 of the ships were camouflaged.

In order to prepare for dazzle camouflage, artists in the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps practiced on a variety of subjects.  The young women camouflaged an ambulance and a tank on the steps of the New York Public Library, and a War Savings Stamps Booth at the intersection of Broadway and 43rd Street.  Most notably, the artists painted a full ship, the USS Recruit, in the middle of Union Square, New York.

The photos of the Women’s Reserve  are some of the most fun and unusual that I’ve come across at the National Archives.  Can you find all of the hidden women in the images below? Some are tougher than you might think!

NARA is currently completing a large-scale project to digitize photographs and films from World War I, including these photographs from 165-WW, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918. Check back soon for updates on this project.

Posted in Digitization, Photographs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Forensic Film Archiving: Who Raised the Flag on Iwo Jima?

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

We rely on film and photographs to tell stories every day – from the latest blockbuster, our favorite television series, videos we take and stream, to the cherished photos in our homes. But, sometimes what we see isn’t what’s really there. Such was the case of the misidentified Marine in one of America’s most iconic images – the seminal photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945. It’s an image that has been etched into our collective memory having appeared in textbooks, in popular media, and as the Marine Monument in Arlington, Virginia.

Photograph of Flag Raising on Iwo Jima

Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. (NAID: 520748)

As the nation’s record keeper it’s our responsibility to maintain what is in our custody for a myriad of reasons – including the ability to provide forensic evidence in an occasion such as this. It was our duty to help provide the information for those who are seeking clarity. The National Archives’ holdings includes photographs taken that day by Joe Rosenthal and others, and 16mm color footage shot by combat cameraman Sergeant William Homer “Bill” Genaust. In trying to determine the identity of the flag-raisers, the investigation included assessing the photographs and 4K scans of Genaust’s footage. The 4K scans are the highest resolution that our equipment can produce. You can see the footage in the Smithsonian Channel’s Documentary The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima. Click here to see the complete unedited reel, which contains other scenes from the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Combat cameraman Sgt. Bill Genaust shot 16mm color footage of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Genaust died in battle nine days later.

Posted in Military, Motion Pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Historic Maps and Photos of the National Zoo

This post was written in collaboration with Carla Simms

The National Zoo in Washington D.C. is one of the capital’s most celebrated landmarks.  The zoo was created by an act of congress in 1889, and officially made a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution the following year.  Since its founding, the zoo has been a pioneer in architectural design, animal care, science and education.  Over the years, the wildlife preserve has attracted millions of visitors, enchanting both young and old with its fascinating animals and captivating history.

Photograph of the East Entrance of National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 1919. Local ID: 30-N-21003

Photograph of the East Entrance of National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 1919. Local ID:  Local ID: 30-N-21003.

The Special Media Division at the National Archives maintains a wide variety of records related to the National Zoo.  Records in this blog range from cartographic plans from the National Park Service, to images of Smokey Bear, the real-life animal that inspired the iconic Forrest Service cartoon.  Also included are images of Hsing-Hsing, the Giant Panda symbolic of President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, photographs from the Bureau of Public Roads, and photos from the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service.

Friends of the National Zoo, Tours and Classes. Local ID: 368-RP-47-2.

Friends of the National Zoo, Tours and Classes. Local ID: 368-RP-47-2.

RG 77, CWMF, F-113-6

Topographical Sketch of the Environs of Washington, D.C. Outline of Zoological Park outlined in blue on this map, dated Dec. 2, 1890 (RG 77, CWMF, F-113-6)

Much like a zoo, the National Archives preserves and provides access to holdings that people would otherwise not have the opportunity to see.  The diversity of records pertaining to the National Zoo emphasizes its cultural significance.   With summer in full swing, now is the perfect time to see your favorite animals in Washington D.C. or at a zoo near you.

Male giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, eating bamboo at the National Zoo. Local ID: 368-RP-49-4.

Male giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, eating bamboo at the National Zoo. Local ID: 368-RP-49-4.

Smokey Bear in his cage at the Zoo in Washington, D.C. his home away from home, 1950. Local ID: 95-GP-117-501947.

Smokey Bear in his cage at the Zoo in Washington, D.C. his home away from home, 1950. Local ID: 95-GP-117-501947.

RG 79, National Capital Parks Numbered Drawings, 844-89008

Map of the National Zoological Park, Washington, DC, 1910 (RG 79, National Capital Parks Numbered Drawings, 844-89008)

RG 328, Numbered Maps and Plans, 2.00 (05.20)-20471

Master Plan for the National Zoological Park, prepared for The Friends of the National Zoo, November 1960 (RG 328, Numbered Maps and Plans, 2.00 (05.20)-20471)

RG 121, Consolidated File, Washington, DC, National Zoo, #1

Plan for An Exhibition Building for Pachyderms, September 23, 1935 (RG 121, Consolidated File, Washington, DC, National Zoo, #1)

Posted in Digitization, Maps, Photographs | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Engraving, Inking, Trimming: The Production of Paper Currency in 1914

Previously we shared a blog post about counterfeiters and briefly mentioned how the artistic gifts of some were used to counterfeit money. This installment will discuss the creation of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and how currency was legitimately made in 1914.


Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Southeast corner of building. RG 56-AE-7.

In 1914, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s (BEP) operations moved to a new building, built in the neoclassical style, on 14th St. in Washington, DC. The Still Picture Branch of the National Archives preserves a set of hand-tinted lantern slides produced for either the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition or the Mississippi Centennial in 1917 to illustrate the activities of the bureau. The series contains approximately 145 lantern slides depicting the various activities of currency production. Scenes include interiors and exteriors of the then new Engraving and Printing building in Washington, DC, transportation of money, storage vaults, employee break areas, and other aspects of currency production.

Continue reading

Posted in Photographs | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Father’s Day Gift Suggestions from the Patent Files

Need a last-minute gift idea for Dear Old Dad?

Whatever Dad’s hobby or interest, patent files are full of quirky gems. The largest selection is in the series Utility Patent Drawings, 1837 – 1911 NAID 305888 among the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Record Group 241, but there are patent drawings in other series, including court records. Search our catalog to find a personal favorite, or choose from the selection here. You can download the images from the catalog.

For the sporty dad:

Continue reading

Posted in Cartographic Records | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sally Ride and the Women of NASA

As a girl growing up in the 1980s, Sally Ride was my hero.

Mission Specialist (MS) Ride at forward flight deck pilots stations controls.

On forward flight deck of Challenger, Mission Specialist (MS) Ride reclines above pilot’s seat in front of pilot’s station control panels. Forward control panels and windows appear on her right and seat back with stowage bag and personal egress air pack (PEAP) and mission station on her left. Earth’s cloud-covered surface is visible outside windows. 255-STS-s07-14-629

At that young age, I didn’t yet understand all of the battles women had fought for equality, but if I declared that I was going to be an astronaut someday, no one could dismiss my dream offhand and tell me that was a man’s job. Sally had already proven them wrong.

In January 1978, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Dr. Ride, along with six other women, to be a member of NASA Astronaut Group 8. She completed a year of training and served on the ground as the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for the second and third space shuttle missions. Then, on June 18, 1983, Dr. Ride blasted off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7, the seventh shuttle flight) as a Mission Specialist, becoming the first American woman in space. Continue reading

Posted in Films, Motion Pictures, Photographs, Video Recordings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment