Engineering

Breaking the Sound Barrier and Beyond

During and just after World War II, the quest for ever faster fighter planes reached an apparent natural barrier—the speed of sound. Yet, on approaching this limit, aircraft became unstable and uncontrollable. In this full lecture, discover how a new approach to aircraft design solved the problem of compressibility and shock waves in this transonic region, paving the way for supersonic flight and paved the way to breaking the sound barrier. […]

photo of Conestoga wagon at SI
American History

The Conestoga Wagon: The Road Westward

Conestoga wagons originated in the mid-1700s, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the Conestoga River. They were used to carry people and goods westward and ultimately paved the way for modern highways like U.S. Route 40. […]

photo of Star-Spangled Banner
American History

The Star-Spangled Banner: Stitch by Stitch

The star-spangled banner tells the story of how our fledgling country was in peril in 1814; how the defense of a small fort in Baltimore gave heart to a people; and how we have defined, loved, and almost destroyed, and saved a national treasure. […]

American History

Project Mercury, a Chimp, and the Moon: The Cold War in Space

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik I putting pressure on the United States space program as the cold war played out in space. The Mercury Seven was a group of test pilots recruited as the first American astronauts. Before launching a human into space, NASA successfully sent Ham, a chimpanzee, into orbit and assured his safe return. NASA and the United States were now ready to grow their space program to the moon and beyond. […]

Solar Eclipse
Astronomy

Eclipse Glasses Not Required

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory has created a free Smithsonian Eclipse app, allowing users to watch a live NASA stream of the eclipse as it moves across the country. […]

photo of American bison on National Mall
American History

American Bison: A Story of Near Extinction and Conservation

With the American bison nearing extinction, William Temple Hornaday, a Smithsonian taxidermist, took it upon himself to lead a conservation effort to save the buffalo. His pioneering efforts led to the founding of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. […]

American History

The Importance of Experimenting: The Wright Brothers

At the turn of the century, The Wright brothers’ ground-breaking inventions captured the spirit of innovation in our nation. Even today, their methods illustrate the importance of experimenting during the process of inventing. […]

photo of Colosseum in Rome
Hobby and Lifestyle

Italy Travel Tips: 5 Roman Sites Not To Miss

Ever walked through a Roman sewer? Have you found the source of light that illuminates a stained glass window? In The Guide to Essential Italy, the Great Courses and Smithsonian Journeys take you on a rich and diverse tour that explores the crown jewels of Italian civilization. These 5 Italy travel tips are just the beginning of what this course offers. […]

photo of Ben Franklin's walking stick; gold top represents his fur cap
American History

Symbol of Liberty: Benjamin Franklin’s Walking Stick

Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, cherished his walking stick. This relatively simple object, adorned with a liberty fur cap at the top, conveys a powerful message about America’s national character at its inception and reveals the success of Franklin’s diplomatic efforts with France during Revolutionary times. […]

American History

Who Helped Fund America?

Money issues abounded in the new United States. Why was the abundance of land (and lack of hard coin) such a problem? What compelled states to print so much of their own unsecure paper money? how did Robert Morris attempt to restore the links between commerce, agriculture, and government finances? […]

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