Smithsonian International Exchange Program Commences




Date: July 21, 1851


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The Smithsonian initiates full-scale operation of its international publications exchange, whereby it ships its own reports along with scientific publications from other American scientific organizations to Europe and in exchange receives scientific publications from abroad and distributes them within the United States. In 1852, the Smithsonian would transmit nearly eight thousand volumes and receive over four thousand foreign publications. The exchange system was eventually extended to Asia, Africa, Mexico, and South America. This program exemplifies Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry's belief that "the worth and importance of the institution is not to be estimated by what it accumulates within the walls of its building but by what it sends forth to the world."


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Smithsonian Institution General History
  • International Exchange Service (IES)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Photograph shows publications being shipped in the early 20th century. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number mah-13318.
  • A discussion of this program's operations in 1851 can be found at Tables illustrating the number of items sent and received, with lists of institutions and publications and a brief discussion of the exchange system, can be found at
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 8. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998, pp. xxv-xxvi.
  • Moyer, Albert. Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997, p. 270.
  • Smithsonian Annual Report for 1851, pp. 42-45.
  • Smithsonian Annual Report for 1852, pp. 20, 46-53.

Contact information

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


July 21, 1851


  • International exchanges
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Exchanges, Literary and scientific

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