Tag Archive | Communication

Object: Rock art reproduction

Rock Painting reproduction
Native American
Langtry, TX.
Materials: Stone, Red Paint

This is a reproduction of a piece of cave art found at Bonfire Shelter in Eagle Cave near Langtry, Texas. Eagle cave is located in Mile Canyon, commonly referred to as Eagle Nest Canyon, which is a tributary canyon of the Rio Grande entering on the north side of the river just downstream from Langtry, Texas. Eagle Canyon gets its name from a pair of nesting eagles in the region. The canyon has been an important area of many archaeological and geological expeditions over the past century due to the region’s rich history of early human inhabitants and rock art.

Smith rock shelter in McKinney Falls State Park, Texas. Image by Larry D. Moore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cave paintings are found across the world from state-parks in North America, to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Often these cave paintings outline stories of hunting and gathering, fishing, or natural disasters.  The Lower Pecos region in southwest Texas is home to several examples of rock art from Texas’s ancient past. In fact, many of the paintings found in these caves give us a glimpse of the type of animals that were around during the time of these ancient peoples. It is possible that some of these paintings were made by the Clovis people who inhabited Texas during the time when the woolly mammoths roamed the earth, 11,000 years ago. These ancient Texas inhabitants hunted Woolly Mammoths and other creatures for food, clothes, and tools. They would have used caves, ridges, or bluff shelters, like the one shown on the right, to protect themselves from weather and animals.

Paints made were by mixing plants and/or animal blood with different types of clay and dirt. For example, the paint for many red cave markings is made with iron oxide called red ochre, a pigment found in many medieval art works. The ancient artists would use their hands, fingers, or objects from the ground to create shapes on the wall. They also would have used animal hair and bones from the animals that they hunted for brushes or as tools to carve into the rock wall. The ancient indigenous people were very interested in the animals they hunted depicting some possible traits of the Animism religion which dates to the Stone Age.

Sadly, many of the paintings are being destroyed by time, weathering, and treasure hunters. In Seminole Canyon State Park, located in Texas, the Parks and Wild Life Services had partnered up with archaeologists in hope of preserving these natural time capsules by way of 3D scanning of the caves and rock faces. As well as, in Eagle Nest Canyon where Texas State University has an ongoing dig site to help preserve some ancient indigenous artifacts. This is also going on in other parts of the world, such as Australia’s outback.

Australian rock art, created by ancient Aborigines, predates that of North American rock art by thousands of years. The ancient aborigines, like the Clovis people of America, also depicted hunting animals and fishing in their paintings.  These ancient people would paint or engrave lines, circles, and patterns to create scenes of humans, reptiles, fish, and whales in the stone. Today, decedents of these ancient people keep up with the traditions of their ancestors by painting in the same method but on canvas. [Arland Schnacker, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Benjamin, Roger; Andrew Weislogel; Fowler Museum at UCLA; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; and Grey Art Gallery. 2009. Icons of the desert: Early aboriginal paintings from papunya. Ithaca, N.Y: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art:2009.

Cox, Kenyon. “What is painting? I: Painting as an art of imitation.” The Art World 1 (1916) (1): 29-73.

Harvey, Graham. The Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Durham, UK: Acumen.: 2013.

Mountford, Charles Pearcy. The Dreamtime; Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings by Ainslie Roberts. Adelaide, Rigby: 1965.

Shafer, Harry J.; Georg Zappler; Jim Zintgraff; and Witte Memorial Museum. Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Houston, TX: Published for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio and Museum Association by Gulf Pub. Co.: 1992.


Object: Contact printer


Contact Printer
Ansco Company
Materials: Wood/Glass/Wire

This object is a contact printer made by Ansco Company in Binghamton, New York.  Before photography became primarily digital, it was designed to create a photographic image from a film negative.  Several images from a strip of film would be lined up on a sheet, creating rows of small picture prints, called contact prints.  This contact printer was owned by James W. Zintgraff, Sr.  Zintgraff, along with his son, James, Jr., owned and ran a well-known photography business in San Antonio from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Wings (1927) film poster. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Wings (1927) film poster. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

James Zintgraff Sr. was a cameraman in Hollywood in the early 1920s.  After deciding he didn’t like the pace of the west coast, he moved back to San Antonio with the idea of starting a local film industry.  In 1927, he worked as a cameraman on a movie called “Wings,” which was filmed in several areas in and around San Antonio, and went on to become the very first movie to ever win best picture at the Academy Awards.

Around that same time, Zintgraff started a still photography business in his backyard.  In the early days, the owner of the Coca-Cola plant in San Antonio would enlist Zintgraff to take pictures of the plant and warehouse.  Zintgraff would run home, develop the pictures, and deliver them within four hours.  He believed the owner was doing him a favor to help him get started.

Though there wasn’t much competition in the early days, James felt that Zintgraff Studios could attribute his success to “having a lot of good friends” from his time in Hollywood.  When a movie premiere or famous people came to town, James would get the jobs through his Hollywood connections.  Most notably, Zintgraff photographed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman when they came to San Antonio for presidential duties.  When James, Jr. joined his father’s business, he worked closely with Hollywood elites such as Cecil B. DeMille and even worked with John Wayne when he was filming The Alamo in Brackettville, a town about 130 miles west of San Antonio.

Through the years, Zintgraff Studios worked closely with some of the most well-known brands in the city, including Pearl, Lone Star, Rainbo Breads, and Coca- Cola.  In addition, they were official photographers for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, numerous Fiesta events, and captured thousands of photographs of area movie theaters, street scenes, parks, schools, and even the new Convention Center when it opened it the 1960s.

Roy Rogers and the "Sons of the Pioneers" singing in studio of KTSA Radio Station in Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, 1943. Image by Zintgraff Studios, via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital identifier CD #1406: Z-2088-A-13.

Roy Rogers and the “Sons of the Pioneers” singing in studio of KTSA Radio Station in Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, 1943. Image by Zintgraff Studios, via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital identifier CD #1406: Z-2088-A-13.

The photographs taken by the Zintgraff Studios span seven decades of history.  They tell the story of San Antonio and its people.  Today, more than 850,000 of the Zintgraff photographs are stored in the UTSA Special Collections Library, located inside the Institute of Texan Cultures.  The moments they captured are locked in time, preserving a bit of the past for future generations. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Lochbaum, Jerry.  Old San Antonio: History in Pictures.  San Antonio, TX: Express Publishing Co., 1965.

Tausk, Petr.  Photography in the 20th Century.  London: Focal Press: Focal/Hastings House, 1980.

Thompson, Frank T.  Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910.  San Antonio, TX: Maverick Publishing, 2002.

Turner, Peter.  History of Photography.  New York: Exeter Books: Distributed by Bookthrift, 1987.

Object: Mask


Opera Mask
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache and Paint

Sun Wukong at the Beijing opera "Journey to the West." Photo by d'n'c, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sun Wukong at the Beijing opera “Journey to the West.” Photo by
d’n’c, via Wikimedia Commons.

This mask represents a character named Sun Wukong (孫悟空), or the Monkey King, who appears in Chinese folklore and plays a large role in the 16th century classic Chinese novel Xiyou ji, or Journey to the West. In the mythology of Sun Wukong, he was born from a stone egg on top of the Mountain of Flower and Fruit, when the wind blew on the stone egg it turned into the monkey. The Monkey King gained immortality and supernatural powers but rebelled against heaven when the gods excluded him from a royal banquet. He stole Xi Wangmu’s peaches of immortality and Laozi’s pills of longevity, then destroyed many of heavens palaces. The Buddha captured the Monkey King and imprisoned him in a mountain for five hundred years. The Buddha released him in exchange for his aid protecting the famous monk Xuanzang in his pilgrimage to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras.

The story of the Monkey king is an important myth in Chinese culture, and it continues to be a popular story in Chinese theater and cinema. Many Chinese operas use face paint rather than masks such as this one. In the Chinese Opera, colors have significant meanings and are used as a visual aid. Red is used to represent a positive character or to show courage, intelligence, or bravery, black is used as a neutral color, blue is used to show stubbornness and white is used as a negative color or to represent a sly or evil character. Gold and silver show characters such as gods, demons and spirits. While red is the predominant color in this specific mask, there are other depictions that have white as the main color, with red framing the eyes nose and mouth. The colors in different masks allow the viewer to better understand the character’s role in the narrative.

Many families enjoy visiting the Chinese Opera during the Chinese Lunar New Year. Each year is represented in the Chinese zodiac by an animal and last year, 2016, was the year of the monkey. To celebrate the year of the monkey many may have used a mask similar to this one in the festivities. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration is a centuries old tradition that lands on the first new moon of the year, in 2017 that was January 28th. The celebration traditionally honors deities and ancestors and it is also a time to gather with family, cleanse homes to rid ill-will and welcome good fortune and prosperity for the rest of the year.

One of the first Asian groups that immigrated to Texas were the Chinese in 1870 who were employed to work on the Texas railroads. In the following six decades, because of the Chinese exclusion law, the only Chinese that entered Texas were called “Pershing Chinese” because of their aid to John J. Pershing‘s troops against the paramilitary forces of Mexican insurgent Francisco “Pancho” Villa. They were allowed to settle in San Antonio, where even in a hostile environment the culture remained. After the exclusion act was repealed, Chinese immigration resumed and continued through the decades allowing the Chinese population in the United States (and Texas) to grow.  Every year San Antonio celebrates our Asian cultures at the annual Asian Festival, held this coming weekend. Get your tickets HERE. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Briscoe, Edward Eugene. Pershing’s Chinese Refugees: An Odyssey of the Southwest. San Antonio: St. Mary’s University, 1947.

Rhoads, Edward J.M. “CHINESE.” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 12 June 2010

Shahar, Meir. “The Lingyin Si Monkey Disciples and The Origins of Sun Wukong.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 52.1 (1992): 193-224.

Wu, Cheng’en, and Anthony C. Yu. The Journey to the West. Vol. 1. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1980.

Wu, Annie. “Chinese New Year Celebrations (2016) — What Chinese Do.” ChinaHighlights, 21 July 2016

Object: Doll

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Unknown date, likely 20th Century
Materials: Cloth, hair, Ceramic

Chikanobu Toyohara, Foxfires, 1898.The print depicts Yaegaki-hime carrying the helmet of the warrior Shingen as she dances amidst magical foxfires.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Chikanobu Toyohara, Foxfires, 1898.The print depicts Yaegaki-hime carrying the helmet of the warrior Shingen as she dances amidst magical foxfires. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This Japanese doll is a depiction of princess Yaegaki-Hime, the heroine of a five-act drama called Honcho Nijushiko or The 24 Models of Filial Piety. This drama was originally preformed in 1766 as a Bunraku, a Japanese puppet theater originating in Osaka, and then became a popular drama in the live acting Kabuki theater. The character of the princess Yaegaki-Hime has gained fame through the Bunraku and Kabuki plays. The Yaegaki-Hime doll presented depicts her holding the legendary helmet that had been gifted to a samurai lord named Takeda Shingen by a fox god called Suwa Myojin. The helmet is enchanted to protect the samurai who wears it so that the samurai will always win and, when in need, the helmet would summon 808 foxes to protect the owner. In the famous scene of heroinism, Yaegaki saves her lover, Katsuyori, from the wrath of her father. He had sent two men to kill Katsuyori because of a family feud, Yaegaki prayed there was something she could do and mourned for her lover. She touched the enchanted helmet and became possessed by its power, with the protection of two white foxes she ran across a frozen lake to warn Katsuyori. The climax of both Bunraku and Kabuki plays is Yaegaki’s dance as she becomes possessed by the fox spirit and saves Katsuyori. The story ends as the family feud is resolved, the lovers marry and live happily ever after.

A Japanese man plays a shamisen while another man sings. Photo by Rdsmith4, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Japanese man plays a shamisen while another man sings. Photo by Rdsmith4, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the Bunraku tradition, scenes are narrated by musical chanting with the accompaniment of a shamisen, which is a stringed instrument of the lute family. The narrator voices the characters using a unique emotional vocal style for each character, sometimes for important scenes there may be multiple narrators chanting together. The puppeteer, or chief handler, also plays a role in narrating the story with his own exaggerated facial expressions, he would operate the head and right hand while 2 assistants, dressed and hooded in black, control the left hand and lower body movement.

The tradition of puppet theater in Japan stems from 11th century traveling story tellers and may have been influenced by Central Asia. The style of puppets has evolved from simplistic, hand-less and leg-less puppets to intricate full bodied puppets with moveable mouths and eyes. Japanese puppet theater was considered a sophisticated, adult pastime and was immensely popular the during the Tokugwa, or Edo, Period (1600-1868). The Japanese puppet theater did not gain the name ‘Bunraku’ until the late 18th century, it derives from the troupe established by Uemura Bunrakuken in Osaka, Japan. The plays for the puppet theater were written playbooks, published in authorized editions and, at the height of the puppeteering tradition over 1,000 plays were written and performed.

A new type of Japanese entertainment emerged in the beginning of the 17th century called Kabuki, where women would play both male and female parts in storytelling with song and dance. Many of the stories in the original Kabuki tradition were those of everyday life however, many of the successful Bunraku plays were adapted for the Kabuki stage. During this period, when women played the roles, Kabuki was not deemed as sophisticated as its puppeteering counterpart. The themes of these stories were often comical, suggestive and the women were usually prostitutes. The Shogunate banned women from acting to discourage prostitution and became a tradition of performance with a completely male cast. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Visit the Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures on February 4th to see live performances of Asian music and dance.

Additional Resources:

Kennedy, Dennis. The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Levinson, David, and Karen Christensen. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002.

Sasaguchi, Rei. “A Master of Many Voices: Living National Treasure Tells a Bunraku Classic.” The Japan Times, September 5, 2001.

Object: Mask


Opera Mask
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache

This is a Chinese Opera mask depicting  Jian Wei, a character who appeared in the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This traditional Chinese drama combines historic events, and legends, from the third century AD and the civil wars after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The wars between the Shu, Wu, and Wei kingdoms spawned stories of violence, betrayal, heroism, and romance.

Jiang Wei is represented with a red, white and black three tiled face with a taijitu, or yin yang, symbol on his forehead. The colors and symbols on the face of an opera character give the audience insight to the personality of the character. Red represents loyalty and courage in Chinese culture. Because his face is mostly red, it suggests an overall positive character. The taijitu on his head tells the audience that he is a Taoist master and has an immense knowledge of the universe. Jiang Wei was a historical figure who was originally a general for the Wei kingdom but his authority was not respected so he became a general of the opposing kingdom of Shu. He later became the successor to the famed Zhang Liang, however, he betrayed the Shu kingdom by manipulating them, allowing the Wei kingdom to overthrow the Shu.

Beijing Opera "Qiujiang." Photo by KIMURA Takeshi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Beijing Opera “Qiujiang.” Photo by KIMURA Takeshi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Masks such as these have several purposes, they can be used for ceremonies, protection, festivals, and theater. In this case, the mask would be worn by an opera performer, today actors typically wear face paint rather than masks. Using paint is more difficult and requires skill, but it allows the actor to better convey emotion.

In the Chinese Opera there are four different types of roles. The first is the female role or dan usually young a maiden, elderly woman, or warrior woman. Second is the male role or , which refers to a young man, elderly man, or sheng combat warrior. Then there’s the clowns or chou which can be either male or female, the clowns are comical characters that can act as the villain or simply provide comic relief. Finally there’s the painted face roles, called jing, which are powerful male roles. The painted face characters usually include generals, villains, gods, supernatural beings, or other powerful characters. The singing style is different for the painted face roles, it requires a deep nasal voice. Their costumes are big and demand attention, with large shoulder pads and heavy fabric these characters take up a lot of space.

Actors of the Chinese Theater in Costume. Beijing, 1874. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Actors of the Chinese Theater in Costume. Beijing, 1874. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Tales like these have been an important part of Chinese literature for centuries with the opera being a form of historical education for many common, or even illiterate, Chinese peoples. However exaggerated and whimsical the operas appear, many of the  stories contain historical fact in the events and characters. The legends told in the Chinese Opera have influenced the identity of the Chinese culture and people. During the mid-nineteenth century, China was in increasing contact with Europe though many western explorers. Europeans journeyed to China to learn about and study the Chinese culture, spread religion, or secure trade routes. The Chinese identity was challenged by the sudden and immense exposure to western society. The traditional tales performed in the opera encouraged and reinforced the Chinese identity. On an international level Chinese Americans brought the Peking Opera to America when there was an increase in immigration in due to the 1849 gold rush. The Chinese have used opera to continue and spread their legends and history. Today the Chinese Opera can be found in countries across the world and has influenced modern media. Chinese themes, stories, and characters play parts in video games like Dynasty Warriors, novels like Journey to the West, comic books, and some have been adapted into full-length feature films. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Don’t forget that the Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures will be February 4th!

Additional Resources:

Lei, Daphne Pi-Wei. Operatic China: Staging Chinese Identity Across the Pacific. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Mackerras, Colin. Peking Opera. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Siu, Wang-Ngai, and Peter Lovrick. Chinese opera: images and stories. Vancouver : Seattle: UBC Press, University of Washington Press, 1997.

Object: Patch


KCOR Patch
Late 20th Century
Materials: Cloth


KCOR Radio and Television Station, 111 Martinez Street, between the San Antonio River and S. St. Mary’s Street. Image via Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, UTSA Special Collections — Institute of Texan Cultures.

This object is a patch from the KCOR AM radio and TV station. The KCOR radio station was founded in 1946 by Raoul Cortez. It was the first Spanish-language radio station in the United States. It was followed by the KCOR-TV station in 1955 which was also the first Spanish-language TV station. The television station was later bought out and renamed KWEX and became the first member of the Spanish International Network, which is now known as Univision. Spanish-language programs continue today and are extremely successful.

Raoul A. Cortez

Raoul A. Cortez. Image via Spanish International Network, sintv.org

Raoul Cortez was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico in 1905. Because his father owned a radio station, Cortez grew up around the radio business. Following the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, his family migrated to San Antonio, Texas. There, Cortez became involved in a Spanish-language newspaper called La Prensa. Much of his early career involved finding and carving out a space for Hispanic music and culture, in a time when very little was available for minorities. After feeling unsatisfied with the small time slots given to Mexican musicians on predominantly English channels, Cortez set out to start his own station in the 1940s. Even though there were Spanish-speaking immigrants living in the United States before this, Hispanic entertainment on the radio, and later television, was hard to find. After World War II, which saw many immigrant families serve on both the war and home fronts, the United States began to embrace more of its multicultural society.

Having a radio and television station in Spanish was of great importance. With many immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, the United States was gaining more diversity without changing much in its dominantly white society. Raoul Cortez’s push to start a station that used the Spanish language, which is a direct connection to Hispanic culture, gave Hispanics in the United States something they could relate to more easily than the many English media sources available. It opened up the way to a more diverse entertainment industry where Hispanic media continues to thrive.

Today, media like the radio and television play big roles in our day-to-day lives. Hispanic media continues to play an important role as a big business in the United States today. In fact, in 2013 the U.S. growth in English media spending was significantly lower than that of Hispanic media growth. Today, Univision and Telemundo are the two main companies involved in Spanish-language broadcasting. Novelas and “Sabado Gigante” are some of the most popular programs. Cortez and those involved in the KCOR’s founding were pioneers in promoting Hispanic media in the US.  [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Casillas, Dolores Ines. Sounds of Belonging: U.S. Spanish-Language Radio and Public Advocacy. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

Dávila, Arlene M., and Yeidy M. Rivero. Contemporary Latina/O Media: Production, Circulation, Politics. 2014.

Dávila, Arlene M. Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. 

“Spanish-Language Television.” The National Museum of American History.

Object: Telephone

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Bell Telephone System
United States
Materials: Metal/Plastic/Wire

The way people communicate with each other, as well as the devices used to communicate have changed over the years.  This object is a telephone created by the Bell Telephone System in 1959, called the Princess Telephone. Today landline telephones similar to this one are usually only seen only at businesses. In 2013 41% of Americans only had a cell phone and that number continues to grow. The history of the telephone goes back to 1876 and a man named Alexander Graham Bell. Before 1876 communication happened via telegraph, or through the mail. The telegraph was invented in the 1830s by Samuel Morse and other inventors. The telegraph worked by sending electrical signals over a wire. Samuel Morse created a code that was used to communicate using these electrical signals, known as Morse code. The code assigned dots and dashes to each letter of the alphabet. Alexander Graham Bell wanted to go further than just dots and dashes, he wanted to transmit sound and voice.

Replica of Bell's liquid transmitter. Image via sciencemuseum.org.uk

Replica of Bell’s liquid transmitter. Image via sciencemuseum.org.uk

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bell studied elocution and speech with his father and grandfather, likely inspired by his own deaf mother. Bell and his family worked with schools for the deaf in England, developing new ways to help the deaf to communicate. It was this work that ultimately led him to develop the telephone. Bell and his family immigrated to Canada in 1870 and a few years later he relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, where he established a school for the deaf. It was during this time Bell began to brainstorm the idea that voice communication could be made possible through electricity. In March of 1876 Bell applied for the patent and days later the famous words “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you” were transmitted.

With the help of Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, who financed Bell’s work, they created the Bell  Telephone Company. In 1878 the company opened the first telephone exchange in New Haven, CT. AT&T was formed in 1885 as a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company with the goal to build the first long distance network. This goal was reached in 1892 when a long distance line connected New York and Chicago and the first long distance call was placed. When Alexander Graham Bell’s patent expired 6,000 independent telephone companies opened around the country. In 1919 the Bell System’s first dial telephones arrived in Norfolk, VA. By 1930 the Bell companies were holding demonstrations to show customers how to use the new dial phones.  From then on different models of telephones were introduced constantly. In 1949 for example, AT&T introduced the 500 series telephone, the most recognized phone in the world at the time. A few years later the same phone was produced but in different colors.

Ad for the Princess phone.

Ad for the Princess phone.

The model of phone in the Institute of Texan Cultures collection was created in 1959 and called the Princess telephone. The Princess telephone was built for convenient use in the bedroom. The phone also had a light up dial which could be used as a night light. It was originally designed by Henry Dreyfuss and later Donald Genaro made improvements to the design. The phone was marketed towards women and it was available in the colors: pink, yellow, moss green, black, white, light blue, ivory, beige, turquoise and gray. When advertised, the slogan used was “It’s little…It’s lovely…It lights.” The Princess model phone went through several changes during the time it was in production. Changes included switching the dial to touch-tone. The Princess phone was in production until 1994 and was incredibly popular. Today the Princess phone has become a collectible item. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Grosvenor, Edwin S., and Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997.

Morse, Samuel Finley Breese, and Edward Lind Morse. Samuel F.B. Morse: His Letters and Journals. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1914.

Shulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2008.

Object: Radio

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RCA; Atwater Kent
Materials: Wood, metal, glass

This object is an RCA radio with an Atwater Kent speaker that attaches to the radio. There are a couple of different people credited as pioneers of the radio and include Henrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi, to list a few. As technology has evolved so has the appearance and use of the radio. This particular style of radio would have been primarily used within the home. It would have been a one way transmission which means that the radio would receive a signal from the nearest broadcasting tower, but would not be able to send a signal back.

The first major wireless communications were from ships at sea to other ships or land-based stations. However, since voice transmission was not yet available these messages would be sent by coded dots and dashes also known as Morse CodeMorse Code worked by assigning letters and numbers a set of dots and dashes. Letters used often would get a simple code, while letters less used would get a more complex code. As radio correspondence between ships became more available, questions regarding correspondence were raised. A major debate at the time was the number of operators working on these ships, and after the sinking of the Titanicthe Radio Act of 1912 was passed. This act made sure that all radio operators on the ships would have licenses to operate the radios and that radios would be under constant watch 24 hours a day.


Young girl listening to the radio.

Once the long distance transmission of a human voice and music was made possible, radios started to be used as a form of entertainment. The period between the 1920s and 1930s is considered the golden age of radio. It was during this time the radio broadcast of comedies, dramas, variety shows, and popular music gathered millions of listeners. The large audience resulted from radios being made smaller and less expensive. Having a radio in the living room was as common as having a television today. Listening to the radio brought communities together and the audience also related to the heroes in the programs they listened to. Besides entertainment, the radio was used to listen to the news. One example of this was the Hindenburg disaster which was covered by radio reporter Herb Morrison. The radio was also used to listen to Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, a series of presidential speeches aired on the radio. These speeches made the public feel closer to the President in a whole new way.

One popular company who produced radios was the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) which was formed in 1919 and the brand of the radio shown here. A. Atwater Kent the man who the speaker is named after, was an inventor and owner of the largest radio factory in Pennsylvania. The Atwater Kent Company produced a number of different models of radios and at one point was the world leader in radios. Kent spent more than $500,000 on advertising for his radios, at the time a huge sum, and he even had his own radio show called The Atwater Kent Hour, which was one of the most popular shows on the radio. 

As television became more popular many of the shows that people listened to on the radio moved to the television screen. However, radio has not been completely taken over by television and it is estimated that 95% of Americans listen to the radio at least once a week. As radio platforms continue to change one thing is for sure, the radio has come a long way. [Abby Goode, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Dalgleish, D. I. (1989). An introduction to satellite communications. London, U.K: P. Peregrinus on behalf of the Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Kahn, F. J. (1978). Documents of American broadcasting. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Richter, W. A. (2006). Radio: A complete guide to the industry. New York: P. Lang.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. Fireside Chats. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.



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