South Carolina State Museum

December 4-5, 2021

South Carolina Science Museum

What we thought would be a one day event, turned into two very full days. And we still had to hurry. I took hundreds of pictures to capture as many of the exhibits as I could. Sadly, all the pictures I took on the second day “disappeared.” I’m not sure if that was due to technical difficulties or user error. But there were still plenty left for this post.

In addition to our senior discounted admission we also bought tickets for their planetarium and 4D movies, both of which were very entertaining. The planetarium showed Mars 1001, a fictional account of a manned spaceflight to Mars. The 4D movie highlighted animals found in the Amazon and in the Galapagos Islands.

The museum had a little bit of everything, all related in some way to the evolution of some aspect of South Carolina – geology, topography, history, science, and economy.

They have a very nice collection of fossils. I especially liked how they mapped a fossil to it’s location on the animal’s skeleton. They even have a state fossil – the Columbian Mammoth.

Columbian Mammoth

There were excellent displays on how South Carolina’s geology and topography evolved, how different types of rocks form, and South Carolina’s volcanic past.

I loved the replica of their first railroad engine, the Best Friend of Charleston. The train’s first run of six miles took place on Christmas Day, 1830. Six months later a fireman got tired of listening to a hissing safety valve and closed it. All was well for a few minutes when an explosion blew the engine and the fireman to pieces. The exhibit also claimed that South Carolina was a world leader in the development of rail transportation. I’m a little skeptical about that. But there’s no doubt that railroads were extremely important to South Carolina’s growth.

Best Friend of Charleston

River travel was also important to South Carolina’s growth, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dugout canoes were hewn from whole cypress trees using a variety of hand tools – felling axes, mauls, wedges, adzes, and draw knives. One exhibit displayed a partially carved dugout canoe, still attached to the base of the tree.

Dugout Canoe

The museum curators have a sense of humor too. One sign titled Learning to Drive compared the controls for a horseless carriage and horse drawn buggy.

I really liked their exhibit about the 1978 invention of a nutcracker for pecans, the Quantz rotary pecan cracker. It wasn’t developed in a well-funded research lab but in James “Bland” Quantz’s garage. For your information there are over 500 varieties of pecans. Pecan trees can grow up to 150 feet tall. And they make a great pie, but I bet you already knew that. Oh, and pecans are not nuts, they’re drupes. I bet you didn’t know that.

In the late 1800s large scale lumbering operations began. By the end of World War I, South Carolina’s forests were largely gone. But silviculture, the science of growing and culturing forests, took root and today lumbering is South Carolina’s largest cash crop. Along with forests, a paper industry also took hold. An interesting factoid – it takes 3½ tons of wood to make 1 ton of paper.

Another industry that got a lot of attention was mining. When I think of mining I think of coal, iron ore, copper, bauxite, etc. But there are a lot of other minerals that are mined. South Carolina is a top producer of marl, kaolin, vermiculite, and crushed granite.

Another large exhibit focused on the evolution of communications, from pen to typewriter to telegraph to telephone to radio to movies to television. They had a wonderful collection of all types of communication devices. One of their “relics” was an 8-track tape. I listened to those when I was young, so does that make me a relic too? Don’t answer that.

Finally, they have a major exhibit about South Carolina native and Nobel Prize winner Charles H. Townes, who is credited with developing the maser and laser.

Laser Exhibit


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