The Epic Failure of Thomas Edison’s Talking Doll

Editor’s Note, December 18, 2020: A new Smithsonian Sidedoor podcast revisits the peculiar story of Thomas Edison’s failed attempt to invent a talking doll, this time with an imaginary holiday twist, so we’re recycling our legacy article from 2015 when Edison’s doll first went on view in the exhibition “American Enterprise” at the Smithsonian’s National […]

The Little-Known Story of Madagascar’s Last Queen, Ranavalona III

Editor’s Note, December 10, 2020: Earlier this week, Madagascar’s government purchased a trove of artifacts linked to the island’s last queen, Ranavalona III, for £43,000 (around $57,000 USD)—significantly higher than Kerry Taylor Auction’s estimate of £1,000 to £1,500, or $1,300 to $2,000 USD. The documents, photographs and other assorted mementos will now return to Madagascar, […]

Olympic Decathlon Medalist Rafer Johnson Dies at 86

Editor’s Note, December 3, 2020: Olympian Rafer Johnson died in Los Angeles on Wednesday, according to a statement from UCLA and USA Track & Field. The decathlon champion was 86. Read more about his life—and his contributions to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture—below. The life of Olympian Rafer Johnson is […]

A Mysterious Monolith in the Utah Desert Vanished Overnight

Editor’s Note, November 30, 2020: Earlier this month, surveyors in Utah’s Red Rock Country stumbled onto a 12-foot-tall metal monolith of unknown origin. At some point on Friday night, the structure vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, baffling local authorities and sparking a renewed round of speculation regarding its creation and ultimate fate. Read […]

The National Zoo Reveals Its New Panda Cub’s Name

Members of the public voted to name the three-month-old cub Xiao Qi Ji, or “little miracle” The cub’s new name is Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji), or “little miracle.” (Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute) smithsonianmag.com November 16, 2020 | Updated: November 23, 2020 4:41PM Editor’s Note, November 23, 2020: After five days of voting, […]

Authorities Arrest Three Suspects in $1 Billion Dresden Jewel Heist

Editor’s Note, November 17, 2020: German authorities have arrested three suspects linked to the November 25, 2019, Dresden “Green Vault” heist. At least one of the individuals detained was also involved in the 2017 theft of one of the world’s largest coins. Both burglaries were likely the work of an organized crime syndicate based in […]

What Are mRNA Vaccines, and Could They Work Against COVID-19?

Editor’s note, November 16, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect the latest news on vaccine development for Covid-19. Earlier today, the drug maker Moderna announced the coronavirus vaccine it created was 94.5 percent effective in a major trial. The news came a week after Pfizer and and bioNTech announced their coronavirus vaccine was […]

Alex Trebek on Why ‘Jeopardy’ Represents the American Dream

The game show host, who died yesterday at age 80, donated items to the Smithsonian in 2013 The longtime “Jeopardy” host died of pancreatic cancer on November 8. (Photo by Amanda Edwards / Getty Images) smithsonianmag.com May 9, 2013 | Updated: 2 hours ago Editor’s Note, November 9, 2020: Longtime “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek died […]

Four Times the Results of a Presidential Election Were Contested

As states continue to count their ballots in the 2020 election, it seems possible that Democrats and Republicans will end up in court over whether President Trump will preside a second term in the White House. The results currently indicate that former Vice President Joe Biden will win enough electoral votes to take the presidency, […]

When Republicans Were Blue and Democrats Were Red

Television’s first dynamic, color-coded presidential map, standing two stories high in the studio best known as the home to “Saturday Night Live,” was melting. It was early October, 1976, the month before the map was to debut—live—on election night. At the urging of anchor John Chancellor, NBC had constructed the behemoth map to illustrate, in […]

A Jumbo Jet Among Bears, 747 Soars to Top Spot in Fat Bear Week

Editor’s note, October 7, 2020: On Tuesday, October 6, the crowd has spoken and 747 was named the biggest, brawniest bruin of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week. May his hard work packing on pounds pay off in the form of a snuggly slumber during his winter hibernation. It’s Fat Bear Week, and that means […]

Archaeologists Unearth Foundations of One of the Nation’s Oldest Black Churches

Editor’s Note, October 7, 2020: Excavations in Colonial Williamsburg have revealed the intact foundations of one of the United States’ oldest black churches, reports Alex Perry for theVirginia Gazette. In addition to unearthing the First Baptist Church’s 19th-century foundations, archaeologists found a smaller brick structure that predates the 1856 building. Read more about the dig—and […]

Eddie Van Halen on How Necessity Drives Innovation

Editor’s Note, October 6, 2020:Rock legend Eddie Van Halen has died of cancer at age 65, his son, Wolfgang, announced on Twitter. “[M]y father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, … lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning,” wrote Wolfgang in the statement. “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every […]

Historic Brooklyn Cemetery Appoints Its First Artist-in-Residence

Editor’s Note, October 5, 2020:The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn has appointed ceramicist Heidi Lau as its first-ever artist in residence, according to a statement. “I am very excited about developing a project at Green-Wood because for the past few years, my work has been deeply engaged with mourning rituals, burial monuments, and belief systems regarding […]