The Papers of Joseph Henry: January 1866-May 1878, The Smithsonian Years

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  • The documents in Volume 11 of The Papers of Joseph Henry trace Joseph Henry's (1797-1878) final decade as the Smithsonian's first Secretary. Henry emerged as the principal leader of American science during these years. Topics covered include leadership of the U.S. Coast Survey, the early years of the National Academy of Sciences, and Henry's active involvement in the improvement of Washington, D.C.'s infrastructure. Henry helped establish the Philosophical Society of Washington and D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art, to which he transferred the Smithsonian's fine arts collections. He also transferred the Smithsonian's library to the Library of Congress and human biological specimens to the National Medical Museum. In the 1870s, he was successful in having the government take over the collection and distribution of weather data, a service long provided by the Smithsonian's Meteorological Project.
  • Henry reluctantly stepped into the role of Chairman of the Light-House Board in 1875, while continuing experimentation with lamp oils and fog signals as its Chairman of the Committee on Experiments. In light of his long experience at the helm of the Smithsonian, Henry was frequently called upon for advice by leaders of academic and scientific institutions during these years. He counseled them to focus on research versus buildings, and arranged a U.S. lecture tour for Irish scientist John Tyndall in part to encourage more private support for scientific research. Although Henry was motivated to improve the Smithsonian's public exhibits after a trip to Europe, where he visited a number of museums, he continued to urge the government to take over the museum functions of the Smithsonian. After the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, Henry agreed to the construction of a new museum building next to the original Smithsonian Building but remained steadfast until his death that it should not be managed by the Smithsonian.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Bache, A. D (Alexander Dallas) 1806-1867
  • Board of Regents
  • United States National Museum
  • United States Congress
  • United States Navy
  • National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
  • United States Light House Board
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art Early History
  • United States Coast Survey
  • Library of Congress Relations with the Smithsonian
  • Philosophical Society of Washington
  • Meteorological Project
  • United States Army Signal Corps
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Includes photographs, notes on style and appendices. Work is extensively footnoted.

Contained within

The Papers of Joseph Henry 11 (Book)

Contact information

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




  • Secretariats
  • Controversies
  • Secretaries
  • Letters
  • United States Congress, Relations with SI
  • SI, Early History
  • Museums
  • Scientists
  • National Collections
  • Major Events in Smithsonian History
  • Museum publications


Washington (D.C.)


Volume 11

Physical description

Number of pages: 792; Page numbers: i-lxvi; 1-726

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