Miscellaneous Adventures into Standard Forms at the Smithsonian

We take a look at the difference standardized forms used at the Smithsonian.

For the next installment of “Miscellaneous Adventures,” we’ve taken a dive into blank standardized forms once used at the Smithsonian, found in Record Unit 65, Smithsonian Institution Chief Clerk, Forms, Circulars, Announcements, 1846-1933, Box 14, Folder Miscellaneous Forms – Assorted. And these forms are certainly assorted! The contents range from memorandum forms to employment applications used in the late 1800s. They provide a fascinating look into the way business was conducted more than 120 years ago.

One of the first documents in the folder was a form letter signed by the second Smithsonian Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887), that appears to be a crowdsourcing effort for the most current methods for archiving.

Text written archival document on white paper.


Dated January 26, 1882, the letter seeks to “ascertain the methods employed in public and private offices, for filing and indexing letters and manuscripts.” Clearly, the proper management and arrangement of our collections has always been a high priority for the Smithsonian, and we are always looking for the most up-to-date methods to do so!

Another form found within this folder gives us one indication how research was conducted at the Institution during the 1890s, when Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian.


Blank lined paper with Smithsonian Insitution letter head.


This document was used to request books from the Library of Congress for the use of the Smithsonian Institution. The form uses the language “send by bearer,” which means by porter or carrier. A porter would deliver the request to the Library of Congress, retrieve the requested books and return to the Smithsonian. This process hasn’t significantly changed over the years – minus the use of porters. However, with the development of electronic books and records, the access to much of this information is now available at our fingertips.

A task many of us are familiar with is applying for jobs. What if a job application was a simple one-page form? Take a look at this Application for Employment used by the Smithsonian Institution beginning in 1884.


Blank application form on cream paper.


While some of the fields look similar to what we find on today’s job applications – name, address, qualifications, and references, several fields we don’t commonly see anymore. Additionally, an applicant isn’t given much space to make their case on this form. While it’s become more common today for job applicants to use a curriculum vitae that provides multiple pages of extensive detail on past employment, this application only provides one line for present or past employment. Imagine condensing pages of information into one line!

Take a look at the rest of the forms found in this folder here.

To see what other miscellaneous mysteries exist in our collections, comment below, or message us on Facebook or Twitter to:

Vote Folder A for Record Unit 401, Archives of American Art, Records, 1954-1985, with related records from 1917, Box 2, Folder 14 Miscellaneous Memos


Vote Folder B for Record Unit 61, Smithsonian Institution International Exchange Service, Records, 1849-1953, Box 48, Folder 1 Miscellaneous Letters – Great Britain, 1886-1889

Related Resources

Miscellaneous Adventures, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives

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