December 12, 2012 9:45 am
The Civil War changed a lot of things in the United States—slavery was abolished, new battlefield medicine was perfected, the West was opened up to railroads and the nation was united. It also changed our money. Before the war, there were 8,000 different kinds of money being used in the United States. It wasn’t until after the war that the U.S. started to really use the dollar.
Banks printed their own paper money. And, unlike today, a $1 bill wasn’t always worth $1. Sometimes people took the bills at face value. Sometimes they accepted them at a discount (a $1 bill might only be worth 90 cents, say.) Sometimes people rejected certain bills altogether.
Those dollar bills looks quite different from our bills today, which weren’t designed until 1963, says The Dollar Bill Collector:
The current design of the United States one dollar bill ($1) technically dates to 1963 when the bill became a Federal Reserve Note as opposed to a Silver Certificate. However, many of the design elements that we associate with the bill were established in 1929 when all of the country’s currency was changed to its current size. Collectors call today’s notes “small size notes” to distinguish them from the older, larger formats. The most notable and recognizable element of the modern one dollar bill is the portrait the first president, George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart.
That design means so much to us that we like our money spotless, rather than dirty. As Smart News has reported:
People like their cash fresh and clean, like OutKast’s wardrobe, and they’re more likely to hold on to those neat bills than spend them quickly. Dirty cash, on the other hand, encourages fast spending. At least that’s the conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
More from Smithsonian.com:
November 19, 2012 3:15 pm
The story of Tycho Brahe is a weird one: it includes events like losing his nose in a duel over a mathematical formula, replacing it with a golden one and having a pet moose who died after getting drunk and falling down some stairs. Brahe’s death was sensational, as well—researchers found extremely high levels of mercury in his mustache hairs, suggesting he had been poisoned. Or perhaps not. A new analysis of the body, exhumed in 2010 to settle the matter, suggests that Brahe was not murdered at all. The BBC writes:
“It is impossible that Tycho Brahe could have been murdered,” [investigation leader Jens Vellev] explained. When asked whether other poisons could have been used, Dr Vellev said: “If there were other poisons in the beard, we would have been able to see it in the analyses.
But if you love potentially murdered eccentric people, never fear. Here are some quite odd cases in which the people were probably murdered:
Regiomontanus: Also known as Johannes Müller von Königsberg, this mathematician lived in the mid 15th century. He became a university student at the age of 11 and got a Master of Arts at 21. He was the first to write a book using symbolic algebra, and a crater on the moon is named after him. In 1476, he went to Rome, never to return. Many believe he was assassinated.
Ottavio Bottecchia: Winner of the 1924 and 1925 Tour de France, Bottecchia was one of the greatest cyclers of the early 20th century. But when he returned to the race in 1926, he was in bad shape and performed quite poorly. Just a few months later, while training alone near his home, Bottecchia was found beaten and bloody on the side of the road. His bicycle, however, was intact, and propped up against a tree nearby. Cycling Revealed explains the three possible explanations:
- The Police Report : “death due to a freak accident.” The investigating officer, under the watchful eye of the local Fascists, stated that Bottecchia had trouble freeing his feet from the strapped toe clips on the pedals after a large drink of water. He lost his balance and fell, striking his head on a sharp rock.[...]
- Theory Number 1 : …Bottecchia was hungry and stopped for a snack at a local vineyard. The owner of the vineyard spotted him stealing the grapes and confronted Bottecchia. The argument grew violent and the furious owner threw a rock, striking Bottecchia on the head.[...]
- Theory Number 2 : The iron-fisted Fascists, who were angry at Bottecchia’s success and his failure to fully support the Fascist Party, had him killed. At the hospital, the attending physician diagnosed the injury as a fracture at the base of the skull, broken clavicle, and a large number of bruises.
This last theory has the most proof: twenty years later, an American immigrant confessed on his deathbed that the Fascists had contracted him to kill the cyclist, and, in 1973, a priest who issued Bottecchia his last rights also claimed this theory was accurate, according to Cycling Revealed.
The Dyaltov Pass hikers: In 1959, nine skiers were found dead in the Ural Mountains. The victims had fractured skulls and broken ribs. One had her tongue cut out. All their clothing was highly radioactive. At their funeral, people noted that their skin was noticeably tan. To this day, no one knows who or what killed them. One theory, according to the St. Petersburg Times was that the local Mansi people had murdered the skiers for trespassing. But that didn’t explain the radioactivity, and the wounds they sustained were far beyond a human’s strength, said the doctor:
Further debunking the theory, a doctor who examined the bodies in 1959 said he believed that no man could have inflicted the injuries because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged,
“It was equal to the effect of a car crash,” said the doctor, Boris Vozrozhdenny, according to case documents.
Another theory was some sort of explosion. This would explain their tanned faces, the radioactivity, and the force of the wounds. But there was no sign of an explosion or missiles in that area at all.
Jimmy Hoffa: A notorious labor union leader and strong-arm, Hoffa had a lot of enemies. Which is why when he disappeared from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Detroit in 1975 everyone assumed he’d been offed. The question is: who did it? And, perhaps more interestingly, where did they put the body? To this day, no one has discovered Hoffa’s remains, and his disappearance remains a mystery. In 2009, mafia hit man Richard Kuklinski claimed that he had offed the Hoff in the book “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer” written by Philip Carlo. Weird NJ writes:
Carlo claims that after killing Hoffa with a combo blackjack/hunting knife to the head and packing him into a handy body bag, Kuklinski drove to a Kearny, New Jersey junkyard, where he engaged in a bit of overkill to dispose of the body, eventually storing it in a car that would become scrap metal. According to many media accounts, including a story about the book in the April 17 edition of the Bergen Record, the claim has been dismissed as a hoax.
More from Smithsonian.com:
October 30, 2012 4:30 pm
Until recently, most New York City residents lacked the impetus to demand infrastructure changes that would make their city more storm-proof. After the beating the city took from Hurricane Sandy, however, that may soon change.
Some improvements are already in motion, according to the New York Times Green Blog’s Mireya Navarro. Officials with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the electricity supplier Consolidated Edison say they are incorporating flood-protection measures, such as more highly elevated transformers and other equipment. The city is expanding wetlands to serve as natural barriers to encroaching waters, too.
Still, some complain that the city is spending too much time planning and not enough time acting.
For example, the Storm Surge Research Group from Stony Brook University, amongst others, calls for sea gates that could close during a storm and block surge from the Long Island South and the Atlantic Ocean. The research group recommends installing movable barriers at several points along the East River. Though these gates could, in theory, prevent an abnormally high tide from flooding the city, they come with an approximately $10 billion price tag. Other less costly mitigation strategies include increased pumping capabilities in subway stations and designing floodgates to block water from entering the city’s many underground tunnels.
By midcentury, the waters surrounding the boroughs’ 520 miles of coast will likely be two feet higher. Climate scientists say New York can count on only more and more severe flooding events such as this one, with the city’s potential flood zones likewise expanding with the rising sea levels.
More from Smithsonian.com:
September 20, 2012 1:28 pm
A fire tornado? If you had asked Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton back in ’96 if that could happen, they’d probably have said: “When cows fly.” But filmmaker Chris Tangey, the man who captured a 100-foot-high twister of fire on tape leaving a path of destruction across the Australian outback on Tuesday, will tell you otherwise.
The rare footage of the whirlwind has spread like—ahem—wildfire on YouTube and other media outlets this week. In case you missed it, the report from a local news station:
According to the video, the last rainfall in Alice Springs, Australia, where the video was taken, was April 24. Combine that with the build up of dry, old growth and you’ve got the perfect conditions for a tornado of this kind. “It was a dance of giants in front of me,” Tangey says in the video, “I had never seen anything like it.”
Tangey was scouting movie locations in the Northern territory when he spotted the swirl of fire, the Australian Times reports:
“It sounded like a jet fighter going by, yet there wasn’t a breath of wind where we were,” Mr Tangey told the Northern Territory News.
“You would have paid $1000 a head if you knew it was about to happen.”
The column of fire raged for about 40 minutes, Tangey said.
To call the event a “fire tornado” may be a misnomer, however. According to Mark Wysocki, New York’s state climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Cornell University, the columns of dust are more similar to a dust devil. The Huffington Post reports:
“‘I would just call them fire vortices but that doesn’t sound so sexy to the public, so I would call them fire devils,’” he told Life’s Little Mysteries.
Like the dust devils that spring up on clear, sunny days in the deserts of the Southwest, a fire devil is birthed when a disproportionately hot patch of ground sends up a plume of heated air. But while dust devils find their heat source in the sun, fire devils arise from hot spots in preexisting wildfires.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
August 29, 2012 8:03 am
Science toys for girls are often, well, terrible. While boys get cool explosions and slime, girls get “Beauty Spa Lab” and “Perfect Perfume Lab.” And everything is always, as a rule, pink. But a team of female engineers are trying to buck that trend. They’re developing toys for girls that will actually inspire young women to go into math and science.
“When we looked around at girls’ toys today, we did not see the kinds of toys that inspired us when we were young,” wrote Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen and Jennifer Kessler wrote at Women 2.0. So the three of them, all graduate students at Stanford, formed a company they call “Maykah.” Their first toy, Roominate, updates the game of playing house: with circuits and custom-built parts, girls won’t just keep house but learn about what goes into building one.
Like many startups these days, Maykah launched a Kickstarter to fund the Roominate project. They hoped for $25,000 and got $85,965. In Silicon Valley, still largely dominated by men, support is widespread. Here’s the company’s Kickstarter video:
Parents could start ordering toys last week, although the final price hasn’t been set yet. The Maykah team hopes that their toys will help put a dent in the highly skewed gender ratio found in the engineering world, where only about 25 percent of the tech-force is female.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Female Scientists Aren’t THAT Rare
Five Historic Female Mathematicians You Should Know