Science Service, Up Close: Of Princes, Princesses, and Science

Prince Albert I of Monaco’s April 1921 Washington visit to receive an award for his work in oceanography, has connections to Smithsonian research today.

As editor E. E. Slosson began setting up the Science Service news office, his mail was flooded with inquiries from potential contributors. Writers and photographers described their accomplishments and submitted samples of their work. One such letter, from Albert Harlingue on April 13, 1921, must have piqued Slosson’s interest, for it coincided with the Washington visit of “a princely scientist.”

Charlotte Louise Juliette Grimaldi (left), Alexandre Millerand (center), and Prince Albert I of Mona

French photographer Albert Harlingue (1879-1963) had been documenting people and places in Paris for decades. With the letter, he enclosed an example of his art. The man in the center of the photograph, at the entrance of l’Institut océanographique in Paris, is Alexandre Millerand (1859-1943), President of the French Republic. On the President’s arm is Charlotte Louise Juliette Grimaldi (1898-1977), Duchess of Valentinois. Standing on the other side is Albert I (1848-1922), Prince of Monaco, founder of the Paris museum and its magnificent counterpart in Monaco.

Charlotte was already a celebrity, renowned for her beauty and her history. She had been born of an alliance between cabaret singer Marie Juliette Louvet and Prince Albert’s son, Louis Grimaldi. Louis was heir to the throne of Monaco, but had no legitimate children or siblings, so he had formally adopted Charlotte in May 1919, to avoid a crisis of succession. Almost a century later, the face of Charlotte still draws in the viewer. Her position assured, she posed elegantly for the crowds, regarding the camera with unmistakably regal gaze.

Slosson, however, would have been more interested in 73-year-old Prince Albert I, a well-known patron of the sciences and, especially, of oceanography. As the Prince explained to one journalist in 1921, “for the last thirty-five years I have believed that the sea was a line which we must follow, because the sea is the largest part of the earth.” In recognition of those contributions to marine science, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had invited Prince Albert to speak on April 25, 1921, at a conclave held in the Smithsonian’s new natural history building, and to receive the prestigious Alexander Agassiz medal at a banquet the following night.

Left to right: Prince Albert I of Monaco, L. Tinayre, Dr. Richard, M. Fuhrmeister, and Dr. Louet

It was a hectic week for Washington scientists, with a full schedule of technical presentations and with Cosmos Club and National Geographic Society dinners honoring the prince. An equally well-known European–a member of scientific royalty–was also in town. Physicist Albert Einstein had visited the White House with a scientific delegation and then addressed the NAS on the morning of April 25, deploring how “political misfortune” was threatening to impair international research collaboration.

After Prince Albert’s death in 1922, Louis ascended to the throne, and his daughter Charlotte became the Hereditary Princess of Monaco, heir presumptive. Charlotte (who had married a French count in 1920) gave birth to a son, Rainier, in 1923. After Prince Louis’s death in 1949, Rainier succeeded to the throne, and in 1956, Prince Rainier III (1923–2005) married American actor Grace Kelly (1928-1982).

Both Prince Rainier III and, today, his son, Prince Albert II, continued the monarchy’s commitment to science and ocean conservation. The Deep Reef Observation Project, a Smithsonian research program exploring marine life and monitoring changes on deep reefs in the southern Caribbean, receives funding from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. In March 2018, project scientists defined a new deep-reef ocean zone, the rariphotic. The study’s lead author, Carole Baldwin, curator of fishes at the National Museum of Natural History, explained the discovery’s significance in words that echoed those of Prince Albert I: “It’s estimated that 95 percent of the livable space on our planet is in the ocean ...Yet only a fraction of that space has been explored.” A princely legacy, and so much more to learn.

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