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THIS IS AMERICA - July 29, 2002: National Museum of American History - 2002-07-26


VOICE ONE:

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. collects, cares for and protects more than one-hundred-forty-million historical objects. Some of them can be seen at the National Museum of American History. I’m Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. This historical museum and its collection of objects is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

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VOICE ONE:

There are sixteen museums in the Smithsonian Institution. They include the National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum of modern art. All the museums are free to the public and open almost every day of the year.

A visitor would need more than a week to see all of the Smithsonian museums. In fact, it takes almost a full day to walk through the National Museum of American History. This museum is in the area of Washington called the National Mall. Last year, more than five-million people visited the National Museum of American History.

VOICE TWO:

The museum’s collection gives visitors a better understanding of American history, science and culture. The American History Museum cares for and protects more than eighteen-million objects.

These special objects include the nation’s most famous flag -- the Star-Spangled Banner. The table that Thomas Jefferson used while writing the Declaration of Independence. The papers showing music written by the great jazz musician, Duke Ellington. However, the museum can show only a small percent of its collection at one time.

The museum is open for seven-and-one-half hours each day. But this may not be enough time to see everything inside. Visitors may want to plan their day at the museum to fit their personal interests. Maybe they want to see the special exhibits that are shown for a limited amount of time. Or perhaps they want to see the permanent exhibits that have been in the museum since it opened in nineteen-sixty-four.

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VOICE ONE:

One permanent exhibit on the first floor of the museum examines science in American life. During the past one-hundred-twenty-five years, scientific research and technology have greatly influenced American culture. This exhibit includes historic pictures and objects that bring scientific ideas to life.

For example, visitors can learn more about America’s effort to develop an atomic bomb during World War Two. This program was called the Manhattan Project. One of the first pieces of equipment scientists used to break up atoms is here. This early “atom smasher” looks like a round tube that can be turned by hand.

Before leaving the science exhibit, people can visit the Hands On Science Center. Experts here can explain how science affects American culture and society. Anyone can ask the experts questions. There are also games and projects for children.

VOICE TWO:

Next to the Hands On Science Center is an exhibit on information technology. More than seven-hundred objects and pictures are in this area. The exhibit explains how information technology has changed the way people live around the world. Visitors can use computers and other kinds of technology in this exhibit.

The history of information technology began in the eighteen-thirties with the creation of the telegraph. This was the first device to send communication over long distances. Samuel Morse developed the telegraph in eighteen-thirty-seven. Messages were sent and received using a series of electric beats representing words. This type of immediate communication is called Morse Code.

VOICE ONE:

Visitors can experiment with Morse Code using a telegraph device. Eleven-year-old Mark Wheeler from California typed out a warning signal using Morse Code. The message represents the letters “C-Q-D,” which mean “come quick, distress.” It was the same message the Titanic passenger ship sent out before it sank in nineteen-twelve. Mark said he learned Morse Code from the Internet computer system. He said he knows other signals, but “C-Q-D” was the most common and useful Morse Code message.

The information technology exhibit also teaches visitors about the history of radio and television. There is even an area explaining how computer and satellite technology spread news and information today.

VOICE TWO:

Information technology would not work without electricity. So visitors might want to examine the next exhibit called the “Nature of Electricity.” Visitors learn about Thomas Edison and the invention of early electric light. The first part of the exhibit tells about nineteenth century forms of power, such as batteries and magnets. There are even some early electric lights that helped form the technical base for Mister Edison’s work.

The exhibit also tells about Thomas Edison’s family and the people he worked with. Mister Edison produced not just a light bulb, but an electrical system. The exhibit even has a model of his first central power station in New York City. The Pearl Street station began producing power in eighteen-eighty-two. Electricity became the world’s leading form of power in fewer than twenty years after Mister Edison’s invention. A revolution had taken place. Low cost electric power had made new industrial growth possible.

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VOICE ONE:

An exhibit about the history of money and metals is on the top floor of the American History Museum. Visitors can see how American money has changed over time. For example, there are one-hundred-dollar bills dating back from the late eighteen-hundreds until today. Visitors can see the different dollar bills issued by the American colonies in the late seventeen-hundreds. There are also examples of memorial coins released for special events in the United States. There are also Japanese gold and silver coins given to President Ulysses S. Grant in eighteen-eighty-one.

This exhibit also shows the world’s oldest known coins dating back more than two-thousand-six-hundred years. The coins are from the ancient territory of Lydia in what is now Turkey. However, one of the most interesting parts of this exhibit is a collection of gold coins from ancient times to the present. The coins are from North and South America, Europe and Asia.

VOICE TWO:

An exhibit of American popular culture is also on the third floor. Visitors can see things used by famous Americans. For example, they can see the boxing gloves worn by boxer Mohammad Ali. They can see the red shoes worn by Judy Garland in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Visitors can also see the musical instrument played by American jazz artist Dizzy Gillespie.

Nearby is an exhibit about musical instruments. Visitors can examine early string instruments made by skilled creators like Antonio Stradivari. Many of these early violins, violas and cellos were made during the seventeenth century. There are also early brass and keyboard instruments.

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VOICE ONE:

One very popular exhibit at the National Museum of American History is about the American presidency. Visitors can learn more about the men who have held the office, and some of the objects they used. Equally important to American history were the women married to this country’s presidents. An exhibit on the second floor examines the part these “first ladies” played in American culture and their work serving the public.

VOICE TWO:

Finally, a visit to the National Museum of American History would not be complete without seeing the nation’s most famous flag, the Star-Spangled Banner. Some historians say the flag is the most recognized sign of American identity. It was made in eighteen-thirteen. The flag hung in the museum for many years. However, age, light and dirt weakened its material.

Museum officials and scientists have been working in a special laboratory to repair the flag. Visitors can watch this process through a glass window. The project is expected to be finished at the end of this year.

At that time, museum officials will return the Star-Spangled Banner to its permanent exhibit. Then millions of visitors will be able to see the famous flag and other important objects that tell America’s story.

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VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by George Grow. I’m Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

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