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Archive for '- Exploration'

The OSS and the Dalai Lama

In the summer of 1942, the Allies’ war against Japan was in dire straits. China was constantly battling the occupying Japanese forces in its homeland, supplied by India via the Burma Road. Then Japan severed that supply artery. Planes were flown over the Himalayan mountains, but their payloads were too little, and too many pilots crashed in the desolate landscape to continue the flights.

The Allies were desperate to find a land route that would reconnect China and India. The task fell to two OSS men—Ilia Tolstoy, the grandson of Leo Tolstoy, and explorer Capt. Brooke Dolan. To complete the land route would require traversing Tibet, and to traverse the hidden country required the permission of a seven-year-old boy, the Dalai Lama.

When the two men arrived in Lhasa, the remote capital of Tibet, these spies were received as ambassadors. A military brass band played, and they were treated as guests of honor in a city that only a few decades earlier had forbidden Westerners to enter.

They came carrying a message from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On December 20, at 9:20 in the morning, they were granted an audience with His Holiness. As a further sign of his respect for these two emissaries, the men were allowed to ride horses up the Potala to the quarters of the Dalai Lama. After a brief wait, they … [ Read all ]

Little house in the big archives

If you have been reading Pieces of History, you know that the National Archives holds many unusual records. But when I started working here, I was excited to learn that we hold the papers of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, at the Hoover Presidential Library.

The childhood adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, especially her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, were some of my favorite reads as a little girl. I was jealous of my friend Abby, whose mother let her spend a snow day pouring maple syrup on the snow in the backyard, just like Laura did one winter.

The collection is three linear feet of papers and correspondence between Rose and Laura, and provides a glimpse into the creation of the books and the relationship between the mother-daughter writing team. But how did papers from a beloved children’s series become part of a Presidential collection?

Laura’s daughter, Rose, helped write the series. Rose lived in San Francisco and worked as a reporter—she also worked and travelled in Europe. She wrote The Making of Herbert Hoover, the first biography of Herbert Hoover, and the friendship that she and Hoover developed through penning that book lasted more than 40 years.

You can read more about the collection and download lesson plans and activities for your own pioneer adventure at the Hoover Presidential Library or follow … [ Read all ]

Exploring the polar regions

As frigid temperatures cover much of the country, and many areas are still dealing with record amounts of snow, my thoughts turn to the polar explorers of the early 20th century. They didn’t have Goretex jackets with superwarm linings, satellite communications, or portable computers. Our “Pieces of History” blog takes its name from a regular feature on the last page of the print version of Prologue, and today I’m sharing a vintage print ”Piece” about an unusual artifact found in the polar archives collection at the National Archives.

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“The Pole at last!!!” With these words Robert E. Peary began his diary entry for April 6, 1909. His team, he believed, had become the first to reach the top of the world, a dream he had pursued for 20 years. In those years, Peary made eight expeditions to the Arctic region, three specifically to reach the Pole. As Peary’s papers make clear, supplying such expeditions was a tremendous task. Clothing, tents, food, cooking utensils—everything needed to survive Arctic temperatures for months—had to be packed in on foot and by dog sledge. The explorers also required scientific instruments so they could make observations, determine their locations, and gather data to record their progress.

Along with a sextant, telescope, and artificial horizon, the Peary Family Collection in the National Archives includes the explorer’s theodolite. A … [ Read all ]

Top Ten Pieces of History for 2010

Since April 2010, we’ve brought you more than 100 Pieces of History. Nothing too small, too strange, or too obscure has escaped the spotlight of our blog or the scalpel of your clever comments.

And we are still discovering new pieces of history every day here at the National Archives! But before we go forward into the 2011, let’s take a look back at some of the posts that our readers (and us, the writers) liked best.

TEN: Admittedly, Horace Greeley does not have the most massive chin whiskers of our Facial Hair Fridays stars, but the word “neard” has been introduced into our vocabulary. The world will never be the same.

NINE: With the “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit in full swing, it turns out there is a lot we didn’t know about the Civil War. Ten things, in fact.

EIGHT: Though the Constitution might have preventing her from voting, it did not prohibit Jeanette Rankin from joining the House of Representatives.

SEVEN: Time and space collide when William Shatner is Norton P. Chipman!

SIX: West Virginia–is it actually a state in the Constitutional sense?

FIVE:  The people of Alaska wake up new American citizens and eleven days in the future.

FOUR: Is that a moleskine in your pocket or a mole skin in your file?

THREE:  What’s in your wallet? The Secret Service wants to know.… [ Read all ]

Wine, for all your expeditionary needs

It’s been called the nectar of the gods, but it may soon be called the nectar of Starbucks. The giant coffee chain is now selling wine (and beer) in a few test stores in Seattle in an attempt to expand its brand image. Starbucks has long been known as the “third place”—not quite home, not quite work—where people can refuel for the remainder of the day with their caffeinated beverage. But wine, not coffee, has historically been the refuel drink of choice the world over.

A look at the thousands of digitized World War II escape and evasion files reveals that the first beverages downed pilots sipped was often wine to calm the nerves, not coffee to keep them alert.

When Meriwether Lewis was preparing for his expedition out west, he brought 30 gallons of wine, about a gallon of the good stuff for each passenger.

And as the above photo shows, the French were sure to pack plenty of wine with them when heading off to war. This photo from the Dardanelles campaign shows enough fermented grape juice to fuel the forces all the way to Gallipoli.

Finally, none other than George Washington would have four to five glasses of wine at dinner each night (and only tea in the morning), according to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission–sponsored Papers of George Washington[ Read all ]