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SciTech Tuesday: Real World Science

Last Friday evening, I gathered with 27 wonderful teachers of 5th-8th grade students from across the country. Together, with some museum staff, we celebrated an incredible week of learning together.

For a week these teachers, from 15 states and the District of Columbia, from public and private schools, urban, suburban and rural schools, spent time learning about new ways of teaching science. At the National WWII museum we are committed to teaching science in the context of history. We believe that when students learn science in this way, with hands-on activities in context, they learn science better, and are more likely to maintain an interest in science.

With the support of The Northrop Grumman Foundation, these teachers came to The National WWII Museum to learn how necessity, knowledge, perseverance and skill lead to inventions, innovation, and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), just like in World War II. They spent 3 days at the Museum, learning about radar, improvements in aeronautics, new materials, and other innovations of the time. They spent 2 days at the University of New Orleans, learning about current methods to study new materials in the Advanced Materials Research Institute.

When the school year starts, the teachers will lead their students in collecting weather data from today and seventy-five years ago. As part of the Citizen Meteorologist project, they will share data on our Real World Science site to see how weather might be changing over time.

We invite other classrooms to join us in collecting data this year, For more information about Real World Science, or to join the Citizen Meteorologist project, visit our site.

Post by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator


Home Front Friday: Ride a Bike!

Home Front Friday is a regular series that highlights the can do spirit on the Home Front during WWII and illustrates how that spirit is still alive today!

Around this time of year, it’s easy to put the bicycle away and take the car to the corner store four blocks away just to avoid the heat. But here at The National World War II Museum, we’d like to remind you to think of your bike! It can be easy to take the thing for granted with the many pleasures of today.

Discussing the Home Front during WWII seems to always lead back to rationing, and bicycles were not immune to these changes. In fact, bicycles today would be much different if it wasn’t for WWII! The demand for metal for war materials required that bicycle makers decrease the weight of their bikes. Bikes went from 57 pounds in 1941 to 31 pounds in mid-1942, never to go back.

And the companies had to keep creating bicycles, as much of the United States population relied on them as the primary form of transportation to and from work.

They were also used by soldiers overseas. Though Allied use of bikes was limited, they were supplied to paratroopers and messengers. Bicycles were dropped out of planes to reach troops behind enemy lines, as well. The 25th United States Infantry, a majority African-American infantry regiment, often used bicycles in their missions.

And today, we can very easily pick up our new lightweight bikes and enjoy a stroll around the town. Your bike and your body will thank you!

Posted by Laurel Taylor, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum


Amphibious assault on Cape Gloucester

Amphibious assault on Cape Gloucester

As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the Island Hopping gallery, we come next to the Tarwara exhibit, which tell of the first major operation of Central Pacific war. The operation involved U.S. forces invading the Gilbert Islands in order to secure airstrips, with the main target being the Tarawa Atoll.

The operation consisted of airstrikes, naval bombardment, and, most remarkably, the first widespread use of the amphibious Landing Vehicle Tracked to breach coral reefs – a strategy that was not expected by Japanese. The operation, however, resulted in heavy casualties, as the US had difficulty overcoming Japanese defenses and experienced limited success with air and sea bombardment. Victory was ultimately achieved, though the high cost of the invasion stirred controversy. Tarawa was a harbinger of things to come in Central Pacific fighting.

The Island Hopping gallery within Road to Tokyo has been made possible through a generous gift by the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III.

Donor Spotlight: Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III

James and Elizabeth McDonnell have had a great interest in the Pacific Theater of World War II. In particular, Elizabeth McDonnell’s father, John M. Hall, served in the war in the U.S. Navy on an LST in the South Pacific. James’s uncle served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was stationed in Fiji and participated in the Okinawa campaign. James also had a first cousin who fought in the war in General Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe as well as several other relatives in the U.S. Army and Navy during WWII.

James comes from a long and proud history of military industrial production! His father, James Smith McDonnell, Jr., an American aviator and engineer, founded the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1939 in St. Louis, MO. During WWII, business expanded exponentially, with around 400 employees in 1941 and more than 5,000 during peak wartime production. During the war, McDonnell Aircraft manufactured 7 million pounds of aircraft parts, including tails and engine cowlings for Boeing bombers and Douglas transports.

The McDonnells first became involved with The National WWII Museum through meeting Hugh Ambrose, son of founder Stephen Ambrose and a member of the Museum’s Institutional Advancement department. As a result of the meeting with Hugh, the McDonnells participated in the Museum’s Pacific Battles Tour in February 2011. Since that intial trip, the couple has traveled on both the Museum’s D-Day 70th Anniversary Cruise and the Masters of the Air Tour.

Aside from their participation in the Museum’s educational tours, the McDonnells chose to make a very generous gift to the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign in 2011. James states that they chose to name this gallery space because while “everyone knows about D-Day in Normandy, in the Pacific there were 126 opposed D-Days, all of which were important in winning the war against Japan.” He and Elizabeth strongly believe that the importance of World War II is a story that must be told and preserved. James states, “WWII saved the world. Its history should be preserved so that future generations will appreciate the accomplishments and sacrifices made by our troops of all services.” The National WWII Museum is thankful for James and Elizabeth McDonnell and the McDonnell Family Foundation for their outstanding role in fulfilling the Museum’s essential mission of sharing the stories of the Greatest Generation with new audiences.


Island Hopping Gallery

Island Hopping Gallery

As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the Island Hopping gallery, which will detail the incredible amphibious landings made by Allied forces as they engaged in efforts to clear the Japanese resistance from the Aleutians, through New Guinea, and the outer rings of the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas island chains. Throughout, the exhibits will communicate both the broad strategic complexity of the island hopping campaign and the individual bravery and leadership of the service members who took part in it.

The first exhibit within the gallery is Strategic Overview, which will give a detailed overview of the major events of the post-Guadalcanal Island Hopping Campaign and the importance of the Air War in the Central Pacific. Island hopping was an innovative American military strategy in the Pacific. It created the pathway for American forces to close the vast distances of the Pacific and bring the war to Japan itself.  Visitors will learn about the intelligence planning that orchestrated these island invasions and the brutal fighting and challenges which American forces met on the Road to Tokyo.

A Douglas R4D bomber on the airfield at Majuro Island, a tiny atoll near Kwajalein in the Marshalls in May 1944.

A Douglas R4D bomber on the airfield at Majuro Island, a tiny atoll near Kwajalein in the Marshalls in May 1944.

Following Strategic Overview, the New Guinea exhibit will explore the arduous battle through New Guinea’s jungles as the Allies counterattacked the Japanese and secured key points along the island’s northern coast. Initially making little progress, Australian and American forces gradually advanced with breakthroughs at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda, as well as the destruction of Japanese forces in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Visitors will discover the significance of New Guinea as a catalyst for the Island Hopping campaign.

Next week, we explore the remaining exhibits within the Island Hopping gallery.


SciTech Tuesday: Trinity’s 70th Anniversary

At 5:30 am on July 16th 1945, the brightest light that had ever burnt on the Earth was ignited in the desert of New Mexico. ‘The Gadget’ had been assembled and placed the day before, and the overnight rain cleared at 4:00 am, so the first nuclear explosion to take place since the Earth had solidified was set off as a test.

The uranium bomb, Little Boy, was already heading across the Pacific for deployment. The two available plutonium bombs had a triggering mechanism that Robert Oppenheimer doubted, so it was decided that one of them would be tested. The military had plans to evacuate the nearest towns if necessary, and Enrico Fermi was wondering aloud if it would ignite the entire atmosphere, but General Leslie Groves and most of the Los Alamos team were gathered in bunkers and shelters 5 or 10 miles from the detonation site.

The steel tower holding The Gadget was vaporized, and the asphalt pad on which it stood was transformed to a green sand. A 200 ton steel container a half mile from the detonation was tossed about, landing on its side. The energy released was 4 times what had been calculated by the Los Alamos scientists. There was a general feeling of elation among the observers after the shock and heat waves had passed, and they picked themselves up from the ground. One man passed around a bottle of whiskey, while others settled bets on whether the test would be successful.

For some, including Oppenheimer, initial relief and happiness gave way to trepidation. Oppenheimer didn’t have words at first to describe his feelings, but in later years he said he thought of Prometheus, and his punishment by Zeus, and of the part of Hindu scripture where Krishna tries to impress a king by showing his godly form and saying “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

For Groves, this is one successful step towards a goal, but not an end on the path. When his assistant remarked to him, “Now the war is over.” Groves replied “Yes, after we drop two bombs on Japan.”

Post by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator

All images from the Department of Energy’s Office of History and Heritage Resources.

Home Front Friday: Atta Batter!

Home Front Friday is a regular series that highlights the can do spirit on the Home Front during World War II and illustrates how that spirit is still alive today!

Baseball is known for being America’s pastime. The craze started, reportedly, in the 1850s and it only has grown in popularity since. Because of Jim Crow and the national racism towards African-Americans, the Negro Baseball Leagues formed in 1920. The Negro Leagues paralleled the major leagues and featured some of the highest quality professional baseball in the United States during its existence. During World War II, the Negro Leagues grew in popularity immensely.

Herbert “Briefcase” Simpson played for the Algiers Giants from 1939 to 1941, and then in 1941 he joined the Army. While he was in service, he played baseball with his military attachment in the United Kingdom and in Germany. When he returned in 1946, he played in the Pacific Coast League for the Seattle Steelheads. After the end of that season, he was picked to play for the All-Star Cincinnati Crescents and to play in Hawai’i.


Lou Brissie, Morrie Morris, and Herb Simpson at The Museum's Baseball Conference in 2007.

Lou Brissie, Morrie Morris, and Herb Simpson at The Museum’s Baseball Conference in 2007.

He then played for the Harlem Globetrotters, the Chicago American Giants, the Spokane Indians, the Albuquerque Dukes, and finally ended his career with the Oakland Acorns. While he played with the Dukes, in the 1953 season, he batted .372 with 59 RBI. He semi-retired after he married, playing semi-pro ball with the New Orleans Creoles while he worked at the New Orleans Parish School Board.  The Museum was lucky enough to learn Herb’s story and have him attend our conference on baseball during wartime several years ago.

Just last week the Museum opened up the special exhibit “Fighting for the Right to Fight,” which discusses experiences of African-Americans during World War II. Additionally, MLB’s All-Star Weekend is this weekend and the All-Star Game is this Tuesday! If Herbert “Briefcase” Simpson were alive and playing baseball today, he’d almost certainly be playing in the game Tuesday night.

Posted by Catherine Perrone, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.



Capture As we continue down the Road to Tokyo, and through the Pacific Campaign Challenges, we come next to the Island Hopping gallery, which will cover the major events of the Allied advance across the Central Pacific.

This gallery will feature the stories of those Americans fighting in the air, sea and land forces, who made amphibious landings in hopes of breaking the enemy, as well as stiffening Japanese resistance. When the island hopping campaign began, US forces were engaged in clearing the Japanese from the Aleutians and pushing through New Guinea under General MacArthur, before commencing operations against the outer rings of the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas island chains.


This gallery space will include five major exhibits: Strategic Importance, New Guinea, Tarawa, Marshall Islands Campaign, and Marianas Campaign. These exhibits will employ an array of artifacts, interactive displays, and audio visual presentations to capture visitors’ imaginations and bring the history of the war in the Pacific to life. Throughout, the exhibits will communicate both the broad strategic complexity of the island hopping campaign and the individual bravery and leadership of the service members who took part in it.

The Island Hopping gallery has been made possible through a generous gift by Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.



Find the Resource That’s Right for You


Are you looking for new resources to use in your classroom next school year?

In this month’s Calling All Teachers e-newsletter, we highlight a number of Museum resources that you can use to bring World War II to life for your students.

In addition to our lesson plans and fact sheets, our digitized primary source galleries allow students to explore WWII-related topics in depth and to develop and support their own interpretations. These galleries include one devoted to the GI Bill of Rights, the landmark legislation that extended benefits to veterans and dramatically altered American higher education and housing. The GI Bill gallery features pamphlets intended to teach returning soldiers about everything from finding a job to choosing a college and securing a home loan.

This month’s newsletter also highlights our interactive, fast-paced Virtual Field Trips, which allow you to bring the Museum into your classroom via a live video conference. You can plan ahead today by scheduling one of our Virtual Field Trips, including our latest program on Choosing and Using Primary Sources with WWII High School Yearbooks.

Finally, the July Calling All Teachers shines a spotlight on the Potsdam Conference, which took place seventy years ago this month. Your students can explore this historic meeting of Allied leaders through the story of Frank Rosato, a trumpeter from New Orleans who commanded the military band of the 156th Infantry Regiment, the Louisiana National Guard, which performed at the conference.

Learn more about the Potsdam Conference, and get more classroom resources and ideas by signing up for our free monthly e-newsletter Calling All Teachers and following us on Twitter @wwiieducation.

Post by Dr. Walter Stern, K-12 Curriculum Coordinator at The National WWII Museum. 


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Pacific Campaign Challenges

Pacific Campaign Challenges

As we continue through the Road to Tokyo and into the Pacific Campaign Challenges gallery, we come to two immersive exhibits detailing the monumental obstacles American forces had to overcome for victory in the Pacific.

Building Bases in the Pacific (Seabees)

The vast geography and logistical challenges of the Pacific War led to the creation of hundreds of airfields, supply depots, ports, barracks and more by the Navy’s Construction Battalions (CB, or “SeaBees”) as well as other service engineers. Building Bases in the Pacific will explore the lives of these critical servicemen including the complexities of their work and the obstacles that they faced. Personal accounts will feature the difficulties of life in disease ridden and hostile environments, and the importance of building positive relationships with native island populations. Construction was vital for pushing toward mainland Japan, and this exhibit will discuss the various ways in which Navy SeaBees helped lead to Allied victory in the Pacific.

An Alien World

This exhibit will explore difficulty of life in the Pacific, as well as the medical advances that were made in light of many hardships. American forces serving in the Pacific had little opportunity to escape the war. Escape was crucial for troops to mentally and physically recover from their service, though there was little that compared to the comforts of home. Some troops were allowed furloughs in Australia and New Zealand, but many were trapped in the tedium of remote island locations, never allowing them a break from their environments. An Alien World will feature various accounts and memoirs of these trying times of Pacific campaign service men and women.


Donor Spotlight: Jones Walker LLP

The Building Bases in the Pacific exhibit within Pacific Theater Challenges (Seabees) has been made possible through a generous gift by Jones Walker LLP. Bill Hines is the Managing Partner of Jones Walker and also serves on The National WWII Museum Board of Trustees.

Jones Walker has been committed to and involved in the Museum’s growth since its inception. Many Jones Walker partners have personally supported the Museum both financially and through the development of its programs. Hines became actively involved as a member of the Board in 2007, and became a member of the Executive Committee in 2013. He currently chairs the Museum’s Audit Committee.

Jones Walker was especially interested in supporting the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign due to the efforts of the Museum’s Board Chairman, Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan. Adkerson introduced the firm to the upcoming Road to Tokyo galleries. Hines states that “many of our partners and I were moved by the exhibits, and we felt inspired to support this segment of the Museum’s visionary expansion.”

A Seabee in a road grader waves as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress prepares to land on Tinian in March 1945

A Seabee in a road grader waves as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress prepares to land on Tinian in March 1945

After the presentation, Jones Walker committed to sponsor the Building Bases in the Pacific (Seabees) exhibit. Hines says that “we were drawn to Seabees exhibit because of Richard Adkerson, whose father, J.W. Adkerson, was in the Seabees. We thought it was the perfect way to honor Richard’s father and the other noble men who fought in WWII for the cause of freedom.”

Commenting on his many years of involvement with the Museum, Hines states that President and CEO, Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller never fails to leave a lasting impact. Hines remarks that Dr. Mueller “has unparalleled knowledge about the detailed history of WWII and its importance to the world. His passion, vision, and drive for conceiving many of these exhibits and executing on the vision are great assets to our city and our country. Because of his work, our children and our grandchildren will know how important WWII is to our history as a nation. Seeing the Museum through to completion has made a great impression on me and many others at Jones Walker. “

When reminiscing of his time spent on the Museum’s Board, Hines states that he has found many of the Museum’s events both memorable and moving. One that stood out the most to him was the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Road to Berlin galleries last December. Hines states that “I found it to be one of the most inspiring and patriotic events I’ve ever attended.”

Hines believes that supporting the WWII Museum is most important in preserving our nation’s history and allowing future generations to be fully educated about the significance of WWII. He states that “it is an honor to have Jones Walker associated with such an amazing organization, and I would encourage others to consider supporting the Museum.”

The Museum is fortunate and grateful to have the support of Jones Walker, LLP in helping the Museum complete our Road to Victory Capital Campaign.

SciTech Tuesday–When the Rubber Meets the Road

As tensions escalated in Europe and Asia, Roosevelt knew he had to prepare the country for war. He was aware that there were critical parts of the manufacturing system that were weak, and that conflict would limit US access to resources in a way that might threaten national security. Using government institutions to support economic development was something his administration had a lot of practice with, so he turned to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which had been created by Congress in 1932 under the Hoover Administration.

At Roosevelt’s direction the RFC created or purchased 9 different corporations. All of these helped develop resources (like rubber or fibers or metals) or supported development of manufacturing facilities. The Rubber Reserve Company at first just controlled strategic reserves of rubber. South Asia was where most rubber plantations were located, and it was coming under the control of the Japanese. Most of the research on synthetic rubber was being conducted by German chemists, who had become expert and developing oil and coal tar into other resources. When it was created the Rubber Reservc Company had about 1 million pounds of rubber.  That seems like a lot, but the military at that time was using about 600,000 pounds a year, and if production increased, so would the need for rubber.

Under the umbrella of the Rubber Reserve Company, several private corporations, including Firestone, Goodrich, and Goodyear,  signed a patent and information sharing agreement, and a committee met to develop a plan for producing synthetic rubber.

A form of polymer called styrene-butadiene rubber was chosen for production. It was the best form for making tire treads, as it is resistant to abrasion and holds its form well. It does, however, require more adhesive than natural rubber. Other polymers were chosen for other uses (such as wiring insulation).

Although the styrene-butadiene rubber could be used on the same manufacturing equipment as natural rubber, it’s use in manufacturing required a big research investment. They used monomers of butadiene and styrene, and mixed them with soap, water, and the catalyst potassium persulfate. By late fall of 1942 the companies had begun successful production. They shared over 200 patents in their consortium. all funded by the RFC through the Rubber Reserve Corporation.

By 1945 the US was producing almost 1 million tons per year of synthetic rubber, more than half of which was produced by the companies in the Rubber Reserve Corporation’s agreement. By 1955 the government had sold all the plants, and control of production was returned to private corporations.

Post by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator

A block of synthetic rubber comes off the line, and is headed for the baler. From the Library of Congress.

A block of synthetic rubber comes off the line, and is headed for the baler. From the Library of Congress.