Job Opportunities

Become part of the Smithsonian family!

The National Museum of American History is recruiting docents. Ms. Andrea Lowther, Director of Visitor Services, will be scheduling orientation dates for October and November, so people will have an opportunity to come and meet with her before January and hear about the specific openings that they will have this year. The museum is especially in need of weekend docents. For more information regarding the volunteer program at the National Museum of American History, check out their website.

Andrea Lowther
Director of Visitor Services
National Museum of American History

Phone: 202-633-3690
Fax: 202-633-9024

Other opportunities:
If history is not your cup of tea, not to worry! There are many more ways to get involved!

You can provide tours for school groups, highlight tours, special interest tours, hands-on activity, behind-the-scene, or be a outreach program docent and more at many of the Smithsonian museums, research centers, and other units of the Smithsonian Institution.

Learn more about different volunteer opportunities at the Smithsonian Institution now!

Collection, Hawaiian

Voice that led people into the light


A Pentagon rescuer's uniform Photo of Isaac Ho'opi'i by Richard Avedon

This is a Pentagon rescuer’s uniform worn on September 11, 2001, by Federal K-9 officer Sgt. Isaac Ho‘opi‘i (a native of Hawai‘i), which includes a shirt with insignia, trousers, boots, and name tag. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Federal K-9 officer Sgt. Isaac Ho‘opi‘i and his dog Vito finished their morning inspection at the Pentagon’s lawn and were heading over to take Vito to the vet. Shortly after, Ho‘opi‘i hears a report on his patrol-car radio about the terrorists’ attack on the Pentagon. Ho‘opi‘i hurried back to the destroyed section of the building. He immediately realized that many people were trapped inside and were disoriented by the thick smoke. After carrying a number of people to safety, he courageously went into the smoke-filled building, calling out in his roaring deep voice: “This Way! Come towards my voice.” Ho‘opi‘i is credited with saving many lives.

Following the September 11 attacks, professional photographers such as Richard Avedon engaged in documentary projects. Avedon contacted Pentagon police officer Isaac Ho‘opi‘i after a Washington Post article featured Ho‘opi‘i’s heroic efforts to rescue people from the blinding smoke of the Pentagon fire. The photograph was taken for inclusion in the American Red Cross Heroes of September 11 campaign that appeared originally in USA Today. He received the Pentagon’s Office of the Secretary Medal of Valor distinction for the lives that he saved on September 11, 2001.

Chinese American, Collection, Exhibitions

Sweet and Sour venture

Our digging for the Sweet and Sour exhibit continues. This time, we thought we’d spread our wings to Hawai‘i.

Why Hawai‘i? 

Most of the Chinese immigrants to Hawai‘i arrived in the mid-to-late 19th century; many came as laborers to work on sugar plantations. After their contract expired, many Chinese immigrants opened businesses in an area which later became Honolulu’s Chinatown. Hawai‘i has one of the largest and oldest Chinese diaspora.

Lau Yee Chai

After researching restaurants in Hawai‘i, two places stood out. Wo Fat and Lau Yee Chai. Wo Fat is one of the oldest restaurants dating back to 1882, and, in spite of its closing in 2005, the building and its neon signage “Wo Fat Chop Sui,” still remains as a historical landmark in Chinatown. It has been a challenge tracking down artifacts from this restaurant. However, we have some leads with plates and documents.

Lau Yee Chai was built in 1929 by Chong Pang Yat, and its elaborate, classical Chinese architecture stood out in the Waikiki landscape, effectively attracting mainland tourists to its door. The original landmark restaurant featured a moon gate entryway, fishpond filled with carp, waterfalls, and a rock garden. Some of the art work remains at the current restaurant in Waikiki. 

Lau Yee Chai was a place for locals to dine at on special occasions. P. Y. Chong, the original owner and chef, was quite a businessman and marketed the restaurant widely by promoting himself with Creole pidgin slogans such as “Me, P.Y. Chong!” on radio and newspapers. I located some of his photos at the Bishop Museum archive. During my visit, John, the manager of Lau Yee Chai was kind enough to meet with me as I stated our museum’s mission and upcoming exhibition on Chinese foodways. He talked to the Mau family, the owner, and prepared original plates and menus to look at. The Mau family generously donated dishes with logos to the museum.

Lau Yee Chai plate

Another local Chinese restaurant I visited, which has been in existence for over half a century, is Tasty Chop Suey. I met with Mrs. Liu, the current owner, who took over the business in 1985. I explained to her why I was there and what I was interested in and about our upcoming Chinese foodways show. Miraculously, she had kept a few samples of the original dishware with the logo on them. She generously donated them to the museum along with the current menu.  

Tasty Chop Suey storefront

Tasty opened in 1956 by the Wong family, Mr. Wong Served in the U.S. Army as a cook during World War II. After the war, he worked at several Chinese restaurants as a cook, including Lau Yee Chai, before opening Tasty. During the 1960s, due to a freeway construction, the restaurant moved to its current location. Fortunately, it kept the original neon sign and logo. Thanks to the original owner’s son, Dennis, not only was the original menu of Tasty preserved, but also chopsticks and a few other items with Tasty Chop Suey’s logo on them. Their slogan was “Hungry for God’s word – Go to church! Hungry for Chinese food – Come to Tasty Chop Suey!”

We procured wonderful items representing Chinese restaurant establishments in Hawai‘i. Now, we will be looking at other cities in mainland USA.  

Where next?

Chinese American, Collection, Japanese American

Collections: Fortune cookie mold

Jennifer 8 Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, not only did a splendid talk on her recent appearance at the Smithsonian to capture the audience’s attention, but she also led us to great contacts on fortune-cookie history. One of the people she introduced to me was Gary Ono, who claims to have originated his grandfather helped to reformulate the flavor of a Japanese confection that led to the spread of the fortune cookie in the U.S. One of the mysteries of the fortune cookie is… is it Japanese, Chinese, or American? Interestingly enough, there are multiple stories to this. However, here we are going to focus on Gary Ono’s grandfather: Suyeichi Okamura, a immigrant from Japan who started Benkyodo, a Japanese confectionery store in San Francisco in 1906.

A fortune cookie mold

Suyeichi of Benkyodo was asked to supply fortune cookies by Makoto Hagiwara, a landscape designer who ran the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. This antique sembei iron kata (hand skillet mold) was used in the Japanese Tea Garden to hand-make the fortune cookies one at a time.

Gary also found plain, M.H. engraved (Makoto Hagiwara’s initials) and Japan Tea and Mount Fuji engraved molds, which made cookies sold at Japanese Tea Garden as tea cookies to customers. Benkyodo continued to be the Japanese Tea Garden’s sole supplier of fortune cookies and other Japanese confectioneries until the outbreak of World War II. While Japanese Americans were locked up in prison camps, Chinese immigrants found this golden opportunity to start producing fortune cookies in America. Now fortune cookies are associated with Chinese restaurants and thought to be a Chinese invention by many in the U.S. After the war, Gary remembers that his grandfather started making fortune cookies again.

Photo credit: Gary Ono

Courtesy of Suyeichi & Owai Okamura family, Benkyodo Co., San Francisco

Collection, General APA, Hawaiian, History, Japanese American

Collections: Mazda blackout light bulb

Dimming the city for safely: Blackout bulb

Mazda blackout light bulb

This Mazda blackout light bulb was used in Hawai‘i during World War II. Bulbs like these were put into production by the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They created a minimal light source during “blackout” nights, when the U.S. government suspected the imminent occurrence of a nighttime air raid.

On “blackout” nights, all normal bulbs were replaced with these blackout bulbs. The reduced light caused difficulty for enemy bombers to locate city targets. This particular bulb, which has a one-inch clear circle at the top to allow for a small amount of light, was used by the Saito family in Oahu.

As a teenager, Edith Saito Gima remembers “one school had a long trench dug, about 6 or 7 feet deep, just a plain one with no protection overhead.  We would march single file with our gas masks over our shoulders. We had an air-raid shelter on our property, which was partly a gulch.  My father and my brothers dug a cave, shored it up with lumber, and we stored water and some canned goods in it, but fortunately we never did have to use it.”

Gift of Edith Saito Gima

Collection, Event, Hawaiian

Smithsonian Online Conference: Problem Solving with Smithsonian Experts

The “Smithsonian Online Conference: Problem Solving with Smithsonian Experts” is a free series of interactive workshops taking place throughout April 2010.  Register now online.

Smithsonian Online Conference

The live online events will be of special interest to educators, entire classrooms of engaged students, and to the general public. Throughout the month, Smithsonian historians, scientists, researchers, and other experts share their questions, their methods, and their unique way of thinking in an interactive format that welcomes you to contribute your own ideas.

The sessions span the arts, history, science, and culture, and are organized around four key themes. All events take place live online—you participate and interact directly from your computer in real time. Each session will be recorded and posted after it takes place for later on-demand access.

Schedule and Themes

Day One: Understanding the American Experience
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Creating Hawai‘i exhibition showcase

On the first day of the conference, our very own Noriko Sanefuji and her NMAH colleague Nancy Davis will be talking about the National Museum of American History’s exhibition, Creating Hawai‘i.  Noriko and Nancy will chat with you about the behind-the-scenes research on the objects and themes related to the exhibition, and explore the differences between the reality of Hawaiian life and history compared to the popular conceptions about our 50th state.

Day Two: Valuing World Cultures
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day Three: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day Four: Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet
Thursday, April 29, 2010

To review the complete program and to register, please visit the conference website.