Agency history, 1885-1947

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  • Morton, C. V (Conrad Vernon) 1905-1972
  • Walker, Egbert H (Egbert Hamilton) 1899-1991
  • Killip, Ellsworth Paine 1890-
  • Leonard, E. C (Emery Clarence) 1892-1968
  • Standley, Paul Carpenter 1884-1963
  • Abrams, Le Roy 1874-1956
  • Maxon, William R (William Ralph) 1877-1948
  • Cook, O. F (Orator Fuller) 1867-1949
  • Pollard, Charles Louis 1872-1945
  • Rose, J. N (Joseph Nelson) 1862-1928
  • Coville, Frederick V (Frederick Vernon) 1867-1937
  • Painter, Joseph Hannum
  • Torrey, John 1796-1873
  • Parry, Charles Christopher 1823-1890
  • Ward, Lester Frank 1841-1913
  • Vasey, George
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • United States National Herbarium
  • United States Department of Agriculture
  • Columbia College (New York, N.Y.)
  • United States National Museum Department of Recent Plants
  • United States National Museum Department of Botany
  • United States National Museum Division of Plants


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Guide to the Smithsonian Archives
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution
  • Annual Report of the United States National Museum
  • Smithsonian Year
  • The foundations of botanical work at the Smithsonian Institution are the extensive collections of plants gathered by the government exploring expeditions of the 1880s and those assembled by the United States Department of Agriculture in connection with its investigations. The Smithsonian had original control of the specimens collected by the expeditions, and these were forwarded to John Torrey at Columbia College in New York, who had offered to house and prepare the collections without remuneration. When Torrey returned the specimens in 1868, lack of facilities and manpower led Joseph Henry to arrange for the Department of Agriculture to act as repository for the collections. There it was merged with the existing collections of the Department. Charles Christopher Parry was named Botanist of the Department of Agriculture in 1868 to care for the collection and served until 1871. George Vasey was appointed Botanist and Curator of the National Herbarium in 1872.
  • Lester Frank Ward, who had been appointed Honorary Curator of Fossil Plants in the United States National Museum (USNM) in 1881, put together another collection of plants for comparison with his fossil specimens. This collection grew to the point where Ward was also named Honorary Curator of the Department of Recent Plants in 1885. In 1889, Vasey was given charge of the collection and appointed Honorary Curator of the Department of Botany. He retained this title until his death in 1893.
  • In 1894, arrangements were made by Frederick V. Coville, Vasey's successor, to have the collections housed at Agriculture moved to the USNM. There they were merged with Ward's collection although transfer of appropriations and personnel did not occur until 1896. Since that time, administration of the United States National Herbarium has come from the USNM and its successors.
  • As a result of an administrative reorganization of the USNM in 1897, the Division of Plants was created as part of the newly established Department of Biology. Coville continued as Honorary Curator until his death in 1937. He was assisted by staff hired by the USNM beginning in 1897, as well as additional botanists from the Department of Agriculture who served as custodians of various parts of the collection. In 1947, botany received departmental status at the USNM when the Division of Plants became the Department of Botany.
  • Curators and research staff of the Division of Plants included J. N. (Joseph Nelson) Rose, Assistant Curator and Curator, 1897-1911, 1917-1928; Charles Louis Pollard, Assistant Curator, 1897-1903; O. F. (Orator Fuller) Cook, Assistant Curator, 1898; William R. Maxon, Aid, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and Curator, 1899-1946; Joseph Hannum Painter, Aid, 1904-1908; Le Roy Abrams, Assistant Curator, 1906-1907; Paul Carpenter Standley, Assistant Curator, 1909-1922; E. C. (Emery Clarence) Leonard, Aid, Assistant Curator, and Associate Curator, 1918-1947; Ellsworth Paine Killip, Aid, Assistant Curator, Associate Curator, and Curator, 1919-1947; C. V. (Conrad Vernon) Morton, Aid, Assistant Curator, and Associate Curator, 1928-1947; and Egbert H. (Egbert Hamilton) Walker, Aid, Assistant Curator, and Associate Curator, 1928-1947.
  • For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1885
  • 1885-1947


  • Botany
  • Plants
  • Botanists


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00057

Full Record

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