The Smithsonian’s museums, libraries, archives and research centers produce incredible work every day, from groundbreaking scientific research, to documenting the history of beer, to sharing the hidden histories of African American women. This work would not be possible, however, without the help of the Smithsonian’s incredible volunteers!
Each year, more than 6,000 volunteers lend their time and talent to projects in Smithsonian facilities worldwide, and thousands more pitch in on the web in crowdsourcing projects at the Smithsonian Transcription Center. That spirit of public engagement has been true at the Smithsonian since its earliest days—our first Secretary, Joseph Henry, enlisted the help of volunteers across the U.S. in 1849 for his weather tracking network, a precursor to the National Weather Service. Henry's successor, naturalist Spencer Fullerton Baird, built off that network to crowdsource the Smithsonian's collections. The Smithsonian did not (and does not today) have a budget for acquiring collections. So, Baird relied on a network of collecting volunteers from across the country to send specimen to the United States National Museum—collection items that are still used today!
Since then, volunteers have taken part a little bit of everything going on at the Smithsonian, spanning exhibit installation, specimen tagging, and even satellite tracking. In celebration of over a century of volunteer contributions at the Smithsonian, explore the work of some stellar volunteers from our collection (and learn how how to volunteer yourself!).
Volunteer satellite trackers in Pretoria, South Africa, for Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Moonwatch Network in 1965. This was one of 100 teams worldwide. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 96-960.
Boy Scouts painting Civil War coast defense guns for the 1876: A Centennial Exhibition, 1975. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 2002-32285.
Three student volunteers, Deborah Ritter, Eleanor Wright and Diane Pryor, putting the finishing touches on objects in the We the People exhibition at what is now the National Museum of American History, 1975. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 75-3999-8.
Volunteer Tracy Siani works with National Museum of Natural History Naturalist Center manager Irene Magyar to measure a mammal skull, 1978. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID SIA77-7800-29A.
Volunteer docent Ruth Hill helps a young student during a sculpture workshop at the National Portrait Gallery, 1978. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 94-2871.
A junior volunteer, John McCauley, demonstrating marble-making to onlookers at the 20th Festival of American Folklife, 1986. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 86-7301-15A.
Volunteer Ellen Glassman, an artist and former high-school art teacher in Washington, D.C., giving a tour to students at the National Museum of American Art, 1988. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 2004-10332.
Volunteer Lina Howe cataloging recently acquired political memorabilia for the National Museum of American History's Division of Political History, 1988. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 88-18246-11.
Volunteer docent James Brown, Jr. introduces preschoolers to the art of Africa at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), 1988. With the help of his puppet friend Kaboundi Gazelle, Brown helps children investigate shapes, learn games, play music and listen to folk tales. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID 2003-19519.
Volunteer Laura Franklin in the National Museum of Natural History shares an object with a young visitor, 1989. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image ID SIA2009-2215.