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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

On April 25, 1953, Francis Crick and James D. Watson described the double helix structure of DNA for the first time in an article entitled “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”.

Francis Crick and James Watson, walking along the Backs, Cambridge, England in 1953. Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The article was published in a volume of the scientific journal Nature, and it remains one of the most important publications in the fields of biology and genetics in the twentieth century.  The photograph below depicts a later model demonstrating the double helix structure, in which genetic instructions are stored and passed down from generation to generation.

Original DNA Demonstration Model from Watson's 1968 book "The Double Helix". Image courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Through Opening History you can discover many primary source documents from the history of science.  For more information about Crick and Watson’s work in molecular biology and genetics, check out Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s James D. Watson Collection.

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On December 9, 1962, the Petrified Forest National Monument was officially established as a national park.  The park extends over 146 square miles of northeastern Arizona and is named for its numerous fossils and petrified trees dating as far back as the Late Triassic period.  The Arizona Territorial Legislature had first requested that Congress grant the area national park status in 1895 when tourism and commercial interest in petrified wood were both on the rise.  In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, and the area was first declared a national monument.

Five people stand on a petrified log forming a tree bridge in the Petrified Forest of Arizona, ca.1900. Image courtesy of the California Historical Society Digital Archive and hosted by the University of Southern California Special Collections.

Since 1962, the National Park Service has worked to protect the land for future generations, but petrified wood is regularly stolen. Approximately 12 short tons of petrified wood are taken off the land illegally each year.

Petrified Forest Nat'l Monument, Arizona, April 13, 1952. Image courtesy of the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University.

Discover more about this and other national parks at Opening History.  Many historic images of Petrified Forest National Park can be found through the California Historical Society Digital Archive, the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University, and the Library of Congress collection Panoramic Photographs: Taking the Long View, 1851-1991.

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Old Faithful

141 years ago today — September 18, 1870 — the geyser now known as Old Faithful was first seen by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. In his 1871 account of the expedition, Langford wrote, “Judge, then, what must have been our astonishment, as we entered the basin at mid-afternoon of our second day’s travel, to see in the clear sunlight, at no great distance, an immense volume of clear, sparkling water projected into the air to the height of one hundred and twenty-five feet. “Geysers! geysers!” exclaimed one of our company, and, spurring our jaded horses, we soon gathered around this wonderful phenomenon. It was indeed a perfect geyser…It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of ‘Old Faithful.'”

Old Faithful Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

The photo above comes from the William Henry Jackson Collection at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Library. You can find more like it, along with resources from other national parks, at Opening History.

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On August 31, 1886 a powerful earthquake hit Charleston, South Carolina.  Though the Richter Scale would not be developed until 1935, retroactive analysis estimates a magnitude of 7.3.  To date, it is the most damaging earthquake to have occurred in the Southeast United States.  In just under a minute, 60 lives were lost and 2,000 buildings were damaged.  Scientists continue to study this event as an example of an intraplate earthquake, which occurs in the interior of a tectonic plate rather than at a plate boundary.  Intraplate earthquakes are relatively rare and their exact mechanisms have yet to be understood.

A view of the damage at the corner of Cumberland and East Bay. Image courtesy of the Medical University of South Carolina.

Last week another intraplate earthquake hit the Southeast with an epicenter in the town of Mineral, VA.  This event was shortly followed by Hurricane Irene, which traveled up the East Coast from the Carolinas.  Opening History has many collections documenting historic natural hazards and disasters that have struck the United States, including the 1886 Charleston Earthquake Photographs, the Georgetown County Hurricane Collection, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection, 1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery, Louisiana Hurricane Resources, and the Lousiana State Museum Hurricane Katrina Oral History Project.

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220 years ago, on November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the 12th U.S. state. This map of North Carolina published around the same time, ca. 1799, is courtesy of North Carolina Maps digital collection, part of a larger Documenting the American South collection.

North Carolina map from Joseph Scott's New and Universal Gazetteer (ca.1799)

North Carolina map from Joseph Scott's New and Universal Gazetteer (ca.1799)


Libraries, museums, and archives of North Carolina state have created 6 digital collections included in the Opening History aggregation:
Folkstreams.net collection
North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940 collection
North Carolinians and the Great War collection
Oral Histories of the American South collection,
Southern Homefront, 1861-1865 collection, and
William Gedney: Photographs and Writings collection.

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On November 1, 1870, almost ten months after its creation in February of the same year, the United States Weather Bureau made its first official meteorological forecast.

Now named the National Weather Service — part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, the agency is tasked with providing “weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” This is done through a collection of national and regional centers, and 122 local weather forecast offices.
The photograph below, courtesy of Alabama Mosaic digital collection, shows one of such local stations — in Birmingham, Alabama — in 1908, when the Weather Bureau was part of the US Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Weather Bureau station, Alta avenue and Lawn street (Birmingham, Alabama, 1908)

U.S. Weather Bureau station, Alta avenue and Lawn street (Birmingham, Alabama, 1908)

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Famous American engineer and inventor George Westinghouse was born on October 6, 1846, in Central Bridge, New York. In 1886, George Westinghouse founded a Westinghouse Electric Company, which remains one of the major companies in U.S. industry. Production of household appliances, including washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc. has been among Westinghouse Company’s many areas of activity. One of the company’s early models of washing machines — Snowball — is featured on this 1913 photograph, courtesy of Utah State Historical Society, Shipler Photograph Collection:

Washing Machine, Westinghouse Electric Company (1913)

Washing Machine, Westinghouse Electric Company (1913)

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