Science History

1898 pen-and-ink drawing of a periodical cicada's life cycle

Brood X in the Eighteenth-Century Headlines

As a historian, seeing the media “buzz” surrounding cicadas makes me wonder how our ancestors reacted to their periodical swarms. Who were the first people to realize what was going on? Did they understand the seventeen-year cycle? Were they afraid, curious, or unbothered? As I suspected, Washington-area locals have been fascinated by Brood X for a very long time. 

Two bison in front of the Smithsonian Castle, downtown Washington, D.C., circa 1880's. The bison were used as models for Smithsonian Institution taxidermists and were part of the Live Animal Collection, forerunner to the National Zoo. (Photo source: Smithsonian Archives)

Happy Birthday, National Zoo!

On March 2, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation establishing a zoological park along Rock Creek in Northwest Washington “for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” But, of course, the backstory began years before.

Prior to the creation of the Zoo park, the Smithsonian kept a large collection of animals in pens and cages on the National Mall. Washingtonians flocked to see the motley collection which included a jaguar, grizzly bear, lynx and buffalo.

Buffalo grazing on the National Mall! Can you imagine?

Friedrich Ratzel

Impressions of Washington: A German Visitor to the Smithsonian in 1874

It's always interesting to read what visitors and residents of Washington have had to say about our fair city over the years.

In 1873, the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne Daily News) asked German anthropologist Friedrich Ratzel to take a trip to the United States and write a series of articles about life in America. He reached Washington in the winter of 1874 and, as a scientist, was particularly interested in the Smithsonian building. See what he had to say.