Smithsonian Regent Louis Agassiz Supports Separating National Museum from Smithsonian




Date: March 15, 1863


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Smithsonian Regent Louis Agassiz asks the Board of Regents to consider "the propriety of asking the government to take charge of the museum, the library, and the building." Agassiz argues that if the Smithsonian were not relieved of the burden of its collection and exhibition responsibilities, "many valuable contributions to science offered for publication would have to be postponed or refused." Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry had long argued that the Institution should not be saddled with caring for and exhibiting the national collections, and expresses his support for Agassiz's recommendation. Agassiz was seeking federal support for his own Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Agassiz's report would be destroyed by a fire at the Smithsonian Building in 1865.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Agassiz, Louis 1807-1873
  • Board of Regents
  • Regents Smithsonian Institution
  • National Collections
  • United States National Museum
  • Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Photograph of Louis Agassiz, 1870. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number 2002-10678.
  • For Henry's arguments in favor of federal funding of the national museum, see Smithsonian Annual Report (see for 1851, pp. 24-25; 1852, pp. 29-31; 1854, p. 25; 1859, p. 51; 1860, pp. 48-49; 1862, pp. 34-35, 1863, pp. 38-39; 1865, pp. 59-60; Smithsonian Annual Report for 1866, p. 17; William Jones Rhees, comp. and ed., The Smithsonian Institution: Documents Relative to Its Origin and History, 2 Sols., 1901, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vols. 42 and 43 (Washington, 1901), 1:633 (see; Smithsonian Annual Report for 1864, pp. 114-115; Louis Agassiz to S. F. Baird, December 6, 1860, Private Incoming Correspondence, 1845-1887, Baird Papers, RU 7002, Smithsonian Institution Archives; Henry Locked Book, March 11, 12, 15, 1864.
  • Marc Rothenberg, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 10, January 1858-December 1865: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2004, pp. 315-16, 364, 392-93.

Contact information

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


March 15, 1863


  • Finances
  • Exhibitions
  • Expenditures, Public

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