"An Establishment for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge" Marks Its 150th Anniversary

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  • This article in Research Corporation's 1995 Annual Report traces the history of the relationship between the Smithsonian Institution and Research Corporation, a foundation established in 1912 for the advancement of science. Authored by a Smithsonian Research Associate, the article begins by summarizing events leading to the 1846 founding of the Smithsonian. Highlights of the Institution's history are then intertwined with brief descriptions of the personalities and accomplishments of the first eight Smithsonian Secretaries, from Joseph Henry, who served from 1846 until 1878, through S. Dillon Ripley, who held the office from 1964 through 1984. However, to concentrate his narrative on the Smithsonian's relationship with Research Corporation from the Institution's perspective, the author provides extensive details on fourth Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott, who served from 1907 through 1927. Walcott is described as a self-educated fossil expert who also had a working knowledge of technological innovations.
  • In 1906, Frederick G. Cottrell, a faculty member at the University of California, developed the first successful electrostatic precipitator for controlling air pollution and the International Precipitation Company gas cleaning business was established. A few years later, Cottrell, a reticent man with a philanthropic bent, decided to convert his company into a foundation that would fund scientific work from the company's proceeds. But after the United States Bureau of Mines Director Joseph A. Holmes offered him a position at the new government agency, Cottrell realized his plan would be unfeasible unless he relinquished his business interests.
  • Cottrell offered his interests to the bureau, but Director Holmes, who knew Secretary Walcott from their service together on the Geological Survey, suggested the Smithsonian Institution as a repository and introduced Cottrell to Walcott in mid-1911. Walcott realized the potential for much-needed economic support of the Smithsonian and understood Cottrell's philanthropic intentions to provide funding for other scientific endeavors as well. Cottrell offered his patents to the Smithsonian at a Board of Regents meeting called to consider the matter; as the Smithsonian was not chartered to form a profit-making company, his offer was declined, but with Walcott playing an instrumental role in reportedly lengthy discussions, the end result was the founding of Research Corporation in 1912.
  • Secretary Walcott worked closely with Cottrell to recruit a governing board for the new organization, and the corporation's charter named the Smithsonian and other research entities as beneficiaries of its net earnings. Cottrell served as an adviser to the corporation, but some years passed before it was organized and profits were finally converted into grants issued to beneficiaries. In 1923, liquid fuel rocket inventor Robert Goddard received one of the few grants given by the corporation during Walcott's tenure. The most grants were issued between 1928 and 1941, during Charles Greeley Abbot's term as Smithsonian Secretary.
  • The author mentions succeeding Smithsonian secretaries who had a connection with Research Corporation: Alexander Wetmore, Secretary from 1944 through 1952, served on the board of Research Corporation from 1947 to 1953; Leonard Carmichael, Secretary from 1953 until 1964, was also on the board; and S. Dillon Ripley, the eighth Smithsonian Secretary, who served from 1964 until 1984, was on the board of Research Corporation from 1965 until 1977, and was the last secretary to serve in that capacity. Ripley was also the recipient of the last grant given to the Smithsonian by Research Corporation. The author writes that the long relationship between the Smithsonian Institution and Research Corporation ended due to the expansion of the Smithsonian into more general fields and Research Corporation's move toward support of academic research.


  • Abbot, C. G (Charles Greeley) b. 1872
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Carmichael, Leonard 1898-1973
  • Goddard, Robert Hutchings 1882-1945
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • Wetmore, Alexander 1886-
  • Cottrell, Frederick Gardner 1877-1948
  • Homes, J. A
  • Regents Smithsonian Institution
  • United States Bureau of Mines
  • Smithsonian Institution General History
  • Board of Regents
  • Research Corporation


Smithsonian History Bibliography


The Annual Report notes that it was being issued in the year of the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution and on the eve of Research Corporation's 80th anniversary.

Contained within

Anniversary Review: Early Support for U.S. Science (Annual Report 1995)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Benefactors
  • Inventors
  • Secretaries
  • Inventions
  • SI, Early History
  • Philanthropists
  • Research, Industrial
  • Research grants
  • Technological innovations
  • Air Pollution
  • Endowments

Physical description

Number of pages : 13; Page numbers : 6-12, 14-19

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