1940s

The Bumpy Road to Washington National Airport

Washington National Airport Terminal

Early in the 20th century, a modern, accessible, airport became a necessity for any major city, and Washington was no exception. However, while there was general agreement on the need for an air hub to serve the nation’s capital, the road – literally – to achieving that goal was fraught with delays and obstacles. It would take 12 years of debate and a president stepping in for the city to finally get the airport it so desperately needed.

Smokey the Bear, 20252

The original Smokey Bear frolicking in a pool at the National Zoological Park. (Photo credit: Francine Schroeder, used for educational purposes according to Smithsonian Archives terms of use.)

“Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Many of us, especially former Boy Scouts like myself, probably associate that statement with campfire safety. Indeed, Smokey the Bear has been around for as long as most of us can remember, reminding us follow safe fire practices in the backcountry. However, Smokey’s message – and even the bear himself – didn’t have much to do with campfires at first. His story actually dates to World War II and has a definite Washington flavor to it.

Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band Disbands

Glenn Miller’s band plays for US and Allied troops in England, Jun-Dec 1944. (Photo Source: U.S. Air Force, Public Domain) http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196150/maj-glenn-miller-army-air-force-band/

On November 13, 1945, the National Press Club hosted a dinner honoring President Harry Truman at Hotel Statler. The 1,000 person guest list featured a virtual who’s who of Washington’s political elite, but more than anything, attendees looked forward to a performance by Glenn Miller’s famous Army Air Force Band. While festive, the evening was also bittersweet, for the band was without its leader. Nearly a year earlier, Major Glenn Miller, famous bandleader and trombonist, had gone missing over the English Channel, while traveling from England to France to give concerts to the troops liberating Europe. 

Eleanor and Diana's Victory Garden

Diana Hopkins hoes her victory garden at the White House as her parents look on. (Source: AP)

Though it’s certainly the most famous now, Michelle Obama’s iconic White House garden is not the first of its kind. Throughout the centuries, the presidential mansion has hosted crops and sheep and all manner of landscaping. But by World War II, the White House lawns were considered purely decorative. A First Lady would have had to fight hard to install a garden by the White House. Luckily Eleanor Roosevelt was up to the task.

Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh (Source: Library of Congress)

Pearl Harbor at Griffith Stadium

Approximately the same time the Redskins took the field at Griffith Stadium on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich put it, “With America at war and lives already lost, a football game had lost its importance.” That was undoubtedly true... for everyone outside of the stadium. But on the inside, most fans didn’t know anything about the attack – at least for a while – as the team declined to make an official announcement. 75 years later, it remains one of the most peculiar scenes in local history.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman Photograph (Source: National Security Administration)

Elizebeth Friedman: Coast Guard Code Breaker

By the end of her life, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was renowned for her work deciphering codes from civilian criminals. She cracked the codes that sent members of what one prosecutor called “the most powerful international smuggling syndicate in existence” to jail, took down a Vancouver opium ring, and caught a World War II Japanese spy.

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