Around the World with the Smithsonian

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  • This popular history presents a look at the myriad of ways the Smithsonian Institution, from its origin to the present day, has been involved in scientific efforts around the world. The author begins with a foreword entitled with the Latin phrase 'per orbem,' meaning "throughout the globe," used from 1894 until 1966 on the Smithsonian Institution's second official seal, to lead off his examination of how the Smithsonian has put that phrase into practice throughout its history. The main body of the book is divided into eleven chapters to portray separate segments of the Smithsonian's history; however, since many of the topics addressed are intertwined, some subjects appear in various contexts throughout the work.
  • In his first chapter, "Professor Henry's Program," the author asserts that in order to leave a bequest to the United States to found the Smithsonian Institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," James Smithson had evidently come to the conclusion that the pursuit of science could not be confined within the borders of any one country. First Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry was of the same bent, as after he became Secretary proposed a plan of publication exchanges between the Smithsonian and foreign institutions and individuals, creating the International Exchange Service, the Smithsonian's first formal, worldwide program.
  • By the end of the 1880's the Smithsonian was the principal facilitator between the United States and the rest of the world for exchanges of scientific, educational and government publications among individual scientists, private societies, colleges and universities. This role was recognized officially after the signing of an international exchange agreement in 1886 that named the Smithsonian as the official United States exchange agent. Due to budget constraints and the advent of fax and computers, the program was phased out in 1992, but the Smithsonian Libraries still carry on exchanges.
  • Chapter 2, "Exploring the Domain of Nature," demonstrates that scientific exploration in various parts of the world has always been an important part of the Smithsonian's focus. The first recorded participation of the Institution planning a foreign expedition occurred in 1848, when a group sponsored by the U. S. Navy was sent to Chile under Lt. J. M. Gilliss to make astronomical observations. The author comments on a number of expeditions undertaken over the years and notes that in the Institution's first 100 years, it had participated in at least 1,500 expeditions.
  • In "Nursery of Living Thoughts," Chapter 3, the author states that despite Secretary Henry's desire that a museum not be part of the Smithsonian Institution, it occurred due to three reasons: Henry's affinity for natural science research, Spencer Baird's arrival in 1850 as Assistant Secretary, and the need to house collections acquired by government expeditions, such as items from Charles Wilkes' 1838-1842 United States Exploring Expedition, and Matthew Perry's 1852-1854 Naval Expedition to Japan. The Smithsonian's increasing collections over the years allowed it to prepare wide-ranging exhibits for expositions, and resulted in the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service being launched in 1952.
  • Chapter 4, "Watching the Sun and Moons," describes the Smithsonian's involvement in studies of outer space. The author credits third Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley as being the first American scientist to conduct astrophysical research. During 1887 to 1906 tenure, Langley continued his scientific interest by establishing the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory on the grounds of the Smithsonian Building. The financial and logistical hardships associated with establishing SAO facilities around the world are cited by the author, who traces the SAO's work to 1973, when the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at Cambridge, Mass., was created. SAO-related projects since that time are mentioned briefly.
  • In Chapter 5, "Adventures in Air and Space," the author examines the Smithsonian's long-time interest in air and space flight, beginning with Joseph Henry's interest in the use of balloons for military reconnaissance during the Civil War. The Smithsonian was instrumental in supporting the research of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard, which led to the launching of a liquid-propelled rocket in 1926. Aviation has been an international interest since the Wright Brothers' flight demonstrations in Europe, a fact reflected in the artifacts added to the Smithsonian's collections over the years. The National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976 to house its aeronautical collections; larger aircraft, such as an Air France supersonic Concorde, are displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center, a Virginia annex of NASM which opened in December 2003.
  • In Chapter 6, "Finding the True, the Beautiful in Diverse Cultures," the author explores the role the Smithsonian has played in the world of art and related cultural studies. Provisions for an art gallery were included in the 1846 act creating the Smithsonian, but small effort was made to assemble collections until after public interest in art was aroused by paintings displayed in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Charles Freer donated his art collection, including works from Asia and the Near East, to the Smithsonian in 1906 and gave $1,000,000 to erect the Smithsonian's first art museum to house the collection. The Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923 with the donor's stipulation that only Asian works be added to the museum's collections. The author also describes the backgrounds and collection holdings of the other art museums and galleries that have become part of the Smithsonian.
  • Chapter 7, "Earthworms to Elephants," concerns the history of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. Created in 1889, the zoo had difficulty securing money to add animals to its collection in its early years but was allowed to collect animals in Yellowstone National Park and to receive gifts of animals from overseas. The greatest increase in the number and variety of animals were obtained on collecting expeditions. William M. Mann, zoo director from 1925 to 1956, led a number of these journeys, such as the Smithsonian-Chrysler Expedition to East Africa in 1926 and the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the East Indies in 1937. More recent events concerning the National Zoological Park's growth include acquisition of giant pandas from China in 1972 and 2001, and the opening of the Amazonia exhibit in 1992.
  • Chapter 8, "Sister Continents," focuses on Smithsonian involvement in expeditions and research activities in Latin America, which began in the late 1850's with specimen exchanges, including those from Cuban Felipe Poey y Aloy, one of the new world's first natural scientists. A number of past and present scientific efforts and programs are discussed, and particular attention is given to the background and work of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
  • "From Palm to Tundra," Chapter 9, takes a look at past and on-going projects undertaken by Smithsonian scientists in a variety of climates around the world. For example, research in the Arctic eventually led to the establishment of the Arctic Studies Center in the National Museum of Natural History, and a project that was enormous in personnel and geographical size was the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey. World-wide programs include the Global Volcanism Program. Vast amounts of research are conducted by Smithsonian scientists in numerous locales; however, the author ends the chapter by noting that in 2003, under the directions of Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, plans were being discussed to revamp the Institution's scientific efforts.
  • Chapter 10, "Broader Interests Abroad," concerns the international programs initiated by Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley during his 1964 to 1984 tenure. Established in 1966, the Office of International Activities (now the Office of International Relations) directed the Foreign Currency Program, through which grants were made at first only for archeological projects, but evolved to become the coordinator of all the Smithsonian's international programs.
  • In "Magic in the Castle," Chapter 11, the author concentrates on foreign visitors who have traveled to the Smithsonian over the years, from the first Japanese delegation to visit the U. S. in 1860, to visits by other foreign dignitaries and heads of state, to foreign students coming to conduct research. Foreign visitors have traveled to the Smithsonian to participate in its annual Folklife Festival, which began in 1967, while others attend or are presenters at lectures and symposiums, of which many are linked to the Smithsonian Associates program.
  • The author concludes with an unnumbered chapter entitled "The Electronic Future," in which he describes the various ways the Smithsonian has employed and continues to utilize technological advances to further its mission to spread knowledge to all peoples of the world.


  • Poey, Felipe 1799-1891
  • Perry, Matthew Calbraith 1794-1858
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Gilliss, J. M (James Melville) 1811-1865
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Rush, Richard 1780-1859
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Wilkes, Charles 1798-1877
  • Freer, Charles Lang 1854-1919
  • Goddard, Robert Hutchings 1882-1945
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Mann, William M. 1886-1960
  • Small, Lawrence M
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Smithsonian Seal
  • United States Exploring Expedition (USEE)
  • Smithsonian Institution General History
  • Smithsonian Institution Establishment of
  • United States Naval Expedition to Japan, 1852-1854
  • National Institute
  • Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service
  • Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL)
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.) Early History
  • National Portrait Gallery (U.S.)
  • National Collection of Fine Arts
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.)
  • Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program
  • Smithsonian Institution Office of International Activities
  • National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Expedition to the East Indies, 1937
  • Smithsonian Associates, The
  • Smithsonian Institution Arctic Studies Center
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
  • Foreign Currency Program (FCP)
  • Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program
  • Smithsonian Institution Office of International Relations
  • Smithsonian-Chrysler Expedition to East Africa (1926)
  • Amazonia Exhibit


Smithsonian History Bibliography


Endnotes are printed at the end of each chapter. A selected chronology of events and Index appear at the book's end.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Smithson Bequest
  • Seals (Numismatics)
  • Secretaries
  • Aeronautics
  • Folk festivals
  • International Activities
  • SI, Early History
  • Rockets (Aeronautics)
  • Giant panda
  • Wright Brothers
  • Latin America--Research


Latin America

Physical description

Number of pages : 142

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