In honor of the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States taking place this week, we’re highlighting content with a presidential theme. Ever wonder which commander in chief turned to a Philadelphia engineering firm to create water that would please the palate of British royalty? There’s a video for that. And read about how early polio vaccine development was funded by FDR, who was afflicted with the once-dreaded disease.

Today we also commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, another American tradition that has its own presidential connection. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to create a federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader. This national day of service pays tribute to one of MLK’s most famous quotes: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Science History Institute museum. 📷 J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia
The Science History Institute is pleased to announce that our museum has been awarded a $40,000 support grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The goal of the PHMC’s Cultural and Historical Support Grant program is to strengthen the state’s museum community by supporting the general operations of eligible cultural and historical organizations like ours. These funds have become even more important in light of the unprecedented challenges institutions are facing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, oil on canvas, 1851. 📷 Wikimedia Commons
ICYMI: Watch our latest Science at Home video, The Science of Spying, where you’ll learn how to write your own secret messages using homemade invisible ink, just like American and British spies did during the Revolutionary War. This family-friendly digital program is part of our Try This @ Home series featuring fun and engaging activities you can try at home. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive notifications whenever a new video is posted.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EST
The first virtual JPS talk of the new year features Jesse Smith, research curator at the Science History Institute, and Jahnavi Phalkey, founding director of India’s Science Gallery Bengaluru, who will share their experiences interpreting water for public audiences. This event is coproduced by the American Chemical Society as part of its ACS Webinars series.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EST
Vijay Kapur, retired CEO of International Solar Electric Technology, presents February’s virtual JPS talk. In this presentation of the comprehensive scope of hydrogen in the energy economy, Kapur will discuss the methods of production of hydrogen, its role as an energy carrier, and its use in fuel cells for electricity generation, particularly for transportation. This event is coproduced by the American Chemical Society as part of its ACS Webinars series.
President John F. Kennedy (center) activates the nation's first salt-water conversion plant at the Dow Chemical Company facility in Freeport, Texas, June 21, 1961. 📷 Science History Institute
Hail to the Chief
With the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States taking place this week on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, we invite you to explore some of the historic presidential materials found in our digital collections:

An alchemist reveals the product of transmutation in this detail of George Greatbach’s engraving Gold (ca. 1870–1890), based on a painting by Alfred Holst Tourrier. 📷 Science History Institute
How searching for alchemy’s secrets helped create modern science.

In the late 19th century, a golden age for political caricature, images of alchemists in the workshop were neither academic nor obscure. 

Eleanor Roosevelt thanks a chemical engineering firm in Philadelphia for manufacturing water for the king and queen of England on their visit to the United States.

Detail of a letter from Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the construction of a polio rehabilitation facility, April 8, 1927. 📷 Science History Institute
In the 1950s Jonas Salk (1914–1995) and Albert Sabin (1906–1993) developed separate vaccines to combat polio, once one of the most-feared childhood diseases in the US. In 1938 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who contracted the virus in 1921 at the age of 39, started what is now known as the March of Dimes to support polio patients at his Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in Georgia, as well as to fund vaccine research. Although he did not live to see the eradication of the dreaded disease, on April 12, 1955—the 10th anniversary of FDR’s death—the field trials for Salk’s vaccine were declared a success and it was approved for use that year. Sabin’s vaccine replaced Salk’s in the 1960s.

Now more than ever it’s important to tell the stories of science. Help us continue this work by supporting the Science History Institute.

Visit and discover the stories of science. Resources and activities include virtual exhibitions, role-playing games for students, and Zoom backgrounds to download for your next online meeting. Comments, suggestions, or questions? Contact us at