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Archive for March, 2011

A Submerged House: Ironclads and the Civil War

The Monitor after her fight with the Merrimac. Near the port-hole can be seen the dents made by the heavy steel-pointed shot from the guns of the Merrimac. Hampton Roads, Virginia. Stereo., 07/1862 (559269)

The original Monitor after her fight with the Virginia.To the left can be seen the dents made by the heavy steel-pointed shot from the guns of the Virginia. Hampton Roads, VA. Stereo., 07/1862 (559269; 200-CC-486)

The USS Monitor was the Navy’s first ironclad vessel, but it was not the only one in Civil War waters.

The Virginia had started life in 1855 as the Merrimack, a Union ship that had been burned to the waterline, sunk, and abandoned in the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, VA. The Confederates raised what remained of the ship and used the hull to build the ironclad Viriginia.

On March 8, 1862, Virginia made its first combat sortie, as the ship headed through Hampton Roads and fired on the Union frigates Cumberland and Congress in an attempt to break the Union blockade at Hampton Roads. According to this New York Times article, the Virginia looked like “a submerged house” with “nothing protruding above the water but a flagstaff flying the rebel flag, and a short smokestack”

But when the Cumberland fired on the Virginia, the Confederate ship proved to be far tougher than an underwater home: “the latter opened on her with heavy guns, but the balls struck and glanced off, having no more effect than peas from a pop-gun.” The Virginia rammed the wooden frigate, which … [ Read all ]

Hats off to Bess Truman!

Bess Truman's hat, 1906. (Truman Library)

Bess in a feathered hat, 1906. (Truman Library)

Here at Prologue: Pieces of History, we have Facial Hair Friday. On the Harry S. Truman Library’s Facebook page, they celebrate Millinery Monday! When I was very little, I loved poking through my mother’s old hatboxes stored in the basement. Alas, the era of wearing hats for every occasion had passed, but she had saved her favorites.

Bess Truman apparently did the same thing. The Truman Library has several of her hats and many more photographs of her in hats at various stages of her life. Scrolling through the Truman Library’s page is a good substitute for exploring my mother’s hatboxes. Not only do you get to see some remarkable chapeaux, but you also get to see the very stylish young Bess Wallace (and others) wearing the hats.

 Bess (left) with her best friend, Mary Paxton, ca. 1901. (Truman Library)

Bess Wallace (left) with her best friend, Mary Paxton, ca. 1901. (Truman Library)

Because Millinery Monday covers the span of Bess Truman’s life, we get to see how hat styles changed from the start of the 20th century through its late decades. We also get to see a part of the library’s collection that is not usually seen by the public. On the National Archives Facebook page, click through our list of “Favorite Pages” to find out more about the Presidential libraries, regional archives, and other units that are all … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Can you hear me now?

Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone Patent Drawing, Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives (ARC Identifier 302052)

Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone Patent Drawing, Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives (ARC Identifier 302052)

In a break with tradition, today’s Facial Hair doesn’t feature a picture of a beard, but the man whose accomplishments we are featuring did indeed have a luxurious beard. And whether or not whiskers tickle your own chin, you almost certainly have one of his inventions attached to your face at some point during the day.

Forget Steve Jobs and the iPhone. You can thank Alexander Graham Bell that you are not carrying a wireless telegraph around with you.

Bell’s telephone was the child of the telegraph. The telegraph–the creation of bearded inventor Samuel Morse–took electric sounds and converted them into words. While it was useful for sending messages, it required a skilled operator. It was not a device for the homes of regular Americans.

Bell’s telephone allowed sounds to be transmitted–sounds that were heard as words.

“It is possible to connect every man’s house, office or factory with a central station, so as to give him direct communication with his neighbors,” wrote Bell.

March 1876 was a big month for Bell. His 29th birthday was March 3. He was issued the patent above on March 7. Just 3 days later on March 10, he made his now famous request of “Mr. Watson, come

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Thursday’s Caption Contest

The winning caption
When I voted to approve appropriations for the country’s highways, I didn’t think I’d have to build them!

Last’s week winning caption goes to Marc, whose plowman did not expect to have quite such an active role in government.

If you thought this looked like a victorious pursuit for these two well-dressed gentlemen, you would be correct. In this image from the Roosevelt Presidential Library, the Victory Garden Program Secretary is plowing Boston Common in 1944. There are no records on how many rutabagas were successfully planted and harvested.

This week’s mystery photo is more ominous than victorious! Put your caption in the comments box below.

You caption here!

Your caption here!

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