The Museum’s “Artifact of the Month” activity sheets are available online as a free resource for teaching California history using object-based learning techniques. Artifacts cover a variety of historical eras, and activity sheets may be downloaded for classroom use.
Mansions were destroyed by the great earthquake and ﬁre that rocked San Francisco on April 18, 1906, but humble washboards survived. Many who had lost their homes carried them to the tent city that sprang up in Golden Gate Park. Contemporary newspaper pictures show these hardy refugees using the boards within days of the disaster. Washboards were called “…a great American invention” by the New York Times in 1868, yet some historians claim the device originated in Scandinavia. The zinc scrubbing panel version was surely an American invention and was patented by Stephen Manlius in 1833.
Pioneers of the 1800s used molds to make candles. Candles were a necessity in the days before electricity and the light bulb and a popular source of light after the sun went down. Pioneer women had to make their own candles. Up until about the 1850s candles were made of tallow from animal fat. Making candles was a long process. It would begin with boiling meat over a hot fi re, to separate the animal fat from the meat and bones. When the fat, called tallow, became liquid it was ready to be poured into a mold. The mold had to have a wick inserted before the tallow could be poured into it. When the tallow cooled, the candles were removed.
This student desk was used in one-room schoolhouses across America 100 – 130 years ago. This desk and its story takes us back to the time when one teacher taught grades one through eight in one classroom. The desks and their attached benches were bolted to the ﬂoor in rows facing the chalkboard at the front of the room.
Used as a tool for counting, the abacus was essential for some immigrants heading to California during the Gold Rush. This abacus is on display in the exhibit, Dr. Yee’s Herbal Shop. Most likely, Dr. Yee brought an abacus with him when he came to California in 1849 to start an herbal shop. He would have used it to calculate the price of herbs and other goods.
California, once nicknamed the Bear Flag Republic and now the Bear Flag State, adopted this bear-shaped object as the State Prehistoric Artifact in 1991. Chipped from meta-volcanic rock by California Indians 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, this artifact resembles a short-faced bear. Archeologists speculate that it is made by the same chipping process used to fashion arrowheads and spear points and that its unique shape suggests it was probably connected to religious practices. Since its 1985 discovery by a Cypress College student working on an archeology dig in Southern California, it has been called the Chipped Stone Bear. It is considered one of the earliest pieces of art known in the Western United States.
For thousands of years, man had looked to the heavens and dreamed of walking on the moon. In 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong became the very ﬁrst to accomplish that dream, followed only minutes later by Buzz Aldrin. Their accomplishment placed the United States ahead of the Soviets in the Space Race and gave people around the world the hope of future space exploration.
In 1900, there were 20 million horses and only 4,000 cars in the United States. Today, gas stations are everywhere, but when cars were ﬁ rst invented, gas stations were not yet around. People bought their gasoline at the general store. They ﬁlled their own buckets with gasoline and used a funnel to pour it into the car’s gas tank.
The increase in automobile ownership after Henry Ford started to sell cars that the middle class could afford resulted in greater demand for gas. In 1905, about 25,000 cars were manufactured in the United States and Sylvanus F. Browner perfected a pump that would take gas out of a barrel and ﬁ ll a car’s tank. The ﬁrst “ﬁlling stations” started opening that same year.
Have you ever met a famous person? In 1914, a six-year-old boy with a broken leg was recuperating in a hospital when he met the most talked about California Indian, Ishi, who was thought to be the last surviving member of the Yahi band of Southern Yana Indians. Ishi gave this handmade glass arrowhead to the boy as a gift.
The pocket adder, formally called an addometer, was just one of several items commonly found in a woman’s purse in the 1950s. Pocket adders were used to perform simple mathematical problems and were primarily used by women when grocery shopping or paying household bills.
Can you imagine needing some of these, issued by the United States government, plus money, to buy a pair of shoes? A tank of gas? A tire for the family car? A pound of butter or sugar? If you have lived in the United States during World War II, the answer would have been, “Yes.” Ask your grandparents and great-grandparents!
The Constitution of the State of California is the document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of California. The original constitution was adopted in November 1849 before California could become a state in 1850. Drafted in just over a month by a diverse group of delegates, the 19-page Constitution of 1849 outlawed slavery, defined citizenship, secured women’s separate property rights, made California officially bilingual with English and Spanish languages, set the state’s boundaries and established a framework for government. It guided California for 30 years and even served as a model for Argentina’s Constitution.
California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850 and the Bear Flag became the ofﬁcial state ﬂag in 1911. This version of the Bear Flag was created in 1846 when a group of American men living in Mexican-controlled Alta California rebelled against their government.
They created a ﬂag to represent their cause. It is said that William Todd, nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln, helped with the creation of the ﬂag. The Bear Flaggers, as they would later be called, used a piece of cotton and placed a red stripe at the bottom. They then painted a red star, inspired by the Texas state ﬂag, the words California Republic and a grizzly bear to symbolize their determination.
On April 18, 1906, San Francisco was shaken by a powerful earthquake that was followed by a devastating ﬁre. To understand the scope of the disaster, newspapers are perhaps the best primary sources of information because they provide immediate eyewitness accounts of the events. While newspapers of that era were never completely accurate, survivors and their descendants certainly have validated the intense emotions of those who lived through this extraordinary part of history.
LOSS IS $200,000! This was a gross underestimate: the losses actually totaled $400 million, the equivalent of about $6.5 billion in today’s dollars.
Created in the late 1800s, this giant horseshoe may not look like much, but it revolutionized farming in the California Delta by allowing more land to be used for agriculture. Even though Chinese immigrants were not allowed to own land, laborers from China farmed the marshy land of the Delta and developed the tule horseshoe to compensate for the difﬁ cult farming conditions of the region. The soft peat soil of the Delta was difﬁ cult for horses to work in; they became bogged down and often they panicked, risking injury to themselves and their drivers.
A smudge pot is an oil-burning device used to prevent frost on fruit trees. Generally a smudge pot has a large round base with a chimney coming out of the middle of the base. Growers used to place smudge pots between trees in an orchard; the heat and smoke from the burning oil kept the air just warm enough to prevent frost from forming on the trees. Growing citrus is a very big part of California’s agricultural economy. The Spanish missionaries who founded the missions in California were some of the ﬁrst people to grow citrus in the state. With the growth in population during the Gold Rush, commercial citrus production also grew, to supply the miners with fresh oranges. Citrus production boomed with the introduction of refrigerated railroad cars in the 1880s, allowing the state’s fruit products to be marketed throughout the nation.
With the mass produced and affordable Ford Motor Company’s Model T and Model A, Americans experienced a freedom to travel like never before. In the early 1920s, people started getting in their cars and out of the cities. People wanted to take off to explore the great United States and especially the golden West. This was before the establishment of motels along the roads, so people had to camp when they wanted to stop for the night. The invention of the Auto Kamp Kook Kit allowed travelers an easy way to cook their meals at their campsite. The stove started out with a single burner, and was advertised as allowing you to “cook anything you wanted!”
70 years ago, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which eventually led to the forced removal of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II. These simple flyers, announcing the relocation of all persons of Japanese ancestry, were posted across California, Oregon, Washington and parts of Arizona ordering the evacuation of people of Japanese ancestry throughout the coastal states. Along with instructions on where to assemble, the flyers also stated what a family should and should not bring with them; among the items not allowed were pets, household goods, and furniture. Some families had as little as 24 hours to prepare to leave. They had no idea of where they were going or how long they would be gone.
Used by Chinese miners and storekeepers to weigh gold dust, herbs and more, the guitar scale was brought to California by the tens of thousands of immigrants who came from China during the Gold Rush. At a time when gold dust was commonly used to pay for goods and supplies, a guitar scale was a handy tool for those dealing with the precious substance. They were highly portable, easy to pack and move from gold ﬁeld to gold ﬁeld.
This sharply pointed, loop-handled metal rod is ﬁtted with a circular band that held a candle in place and lit the way for miners working underground in dark hard-rock mine shafts. When miners required lighting in speciﬁc areas, they would thrust such rods into the mine’s wall to make a candleholder. A “Sticking Tommy” could be removed and reused when needed.
This little doll, a replica of the one brought across the prairies and mountains by Patty Reed, symbolizes the dangerous and difﬁ cult journey made by so many pioneers and the innocence of the children who made the trip with their parents. Patty Reed was only 8 years old when her family left Springﬁ eld, Illinois, to head west to California. The Reed family was part of the wagon train known today as the Donner Party. In April 1846, the Donner Party, made up of 33 men, women and children, headed west in search of a better life, to start a business or a farmstead. The families used covered wagons, usually pulled by oxen, to carry their household items, family treasures and food and supplies for the trip. The journey was very dangerous because of the limited amount of basic supplies that could ﬁt in the wagon, the extreme weather in the winter, and diseases epidemic on the trail. The Donner Party did not escape these dangers, and their story would go down in history.
This weathered bell is a early twentieth-century replica of a mission bell guidepost that once marked the original route of the El Camino Real, The King’s Highway, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These bells gave travelers the distance to the next town and directions to the missions. Originally a footpath traveled by the Franciscan missionaries, El Camino Real reached from San Diego to Sonoma, connecting California’s 21 missions. Over time, the small footpath evolved into a busy road wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons, and is considered to be the ﬁrst roadway in the state. Today, large portions of Highway 101 follow the original route of El Camino Real.
A Paiute woman made this lightweight and durable water container basket in 1890. As you can imagine, baskets intended to hold liquids had to be woven very tightly. Before use, they also were covered in pine pitch sap and then rolled in dirt to create a watertight seal. Since there was not a lot of fresh water readily available for the Paiute people (who live on the dry eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), they needed to store water. This basket would be able to hold enough fresh water for one person for one day.