Travel Back in Time with Historical Artifacts

3 min read
Edison Talking Doll 2

By Traci Cothran

Quick: What do these objects all have in common?

  • Feed-sack Dress
  • John Brown’s Sharps Rifle
  • Edison Talking Doll
  • Psychedelic Lunch Box
  • A Monkey listening to the Scopes Trial

Stumped? They’re all in Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History – a wonderful, curated collection of original sources, with hundreds and hundreds from the Smithsonian archives and museums. You can browse by era to find all kinds of fascinating documents and artifacts, or search for something specific. A search on “Lincoln” shows an Abraham Lincoln life mask, Mary Todd Lincoln’s mourning watch, a Lincoln tea ad (who knew?), and prison hoods of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, among other items.  A click on the “Cold War Era” reveals items such as Tiki glasses, the Atlantic Charter document, Apollo 11 Command Module, and a TV tray table.  Details follow each primary source image, noting its historical relevance, and Quick Facts and Critical Thinking Questions are provided as well.  For curious minds, Related Items of interest point you to more incredible finds.

Jock the monkey listens in on the Scopes trial verdict to find out if the allegations are true that he is some distant kin of and related to the humans, Washington DC, July 21, 1923. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Jock the Monkey Listening to the Scopes Trial 3

It’s hard not to get caught up in history when viewing these rare, tangible items that breathe life into our past. Why were the Lincoln conspirators made to wear the hoods? How did WWII encourage the popularization of the Tiki glass? Who gave Mary Todd Lincoln the mourning watch, and how long did she wear it? All these questions are answered in this resource—as are so many more. For a student writing about the Civil Rights era, a look at the Greensboro Lunch Counter may be revelatory. Edison’s talking doll showcases his ingenuity, and may inspire a new inventor. The 1960s psychedelic lunch box can be compared to the 1960s G.I. Joe lunch box, bringing to light meaningful insights to students.

Abraham Lincoln Life Mask 4

So grab a hat and travel back in time through this treasure trove—from the 1450 Pre-Colonial Era to the present—experiencing the highs and lows of the United States’ history through Westward Expansion, the Civil War, Industrialization, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and more, and experience life as it was lived through these collections from the Smithsonian.

Interested in bringing history to life? Request a trial today!

1 House Trailer. United States: n.p, 1934. Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
2 Edison Talking Doll. West Orange, New Jersey, United States: n.p, c. 1890. Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History. Web. 9 Sept. 2016.
3 A Monkey Listening to the Scopes Trial. Washington, D.C., United States: n.p, 21 July 1923. Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History. Web. 9 Sept. 2016.
4 Mills, Clark. Abraham Lincoln Life Mask by Clark Mills, 1865. Washington, D.C., United States: n.p, 1865. Smithsonian Primary Sources in U.S. History. Web. 9 Sept. 2016.

Traci J. Cothran

About the Author

Traci Cothran is a manager in Gale’s Database Program and a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale’s World History In Context.  


Leave a Comment