Joseph Henry Visits California Via Transcontinental Railroad

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Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry travels to California via the transcontinental railroad completed just two years earlier. His daughter Helen accompanies him. As chairman of the U.S. Lighthouse Board's Committee on Experiments, Henry spends most of his time in San Francisco inspecting lard oil for lamps. During the six to seven day journey from Washington to California and back, Henry and Helen stop in Council Bluffs and Omaha, Nebraska, Salt Lake City, and Chicago.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Henry, Helen Louisa 1836-1912


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Oil painting of San Francisco Bay by Albert Bierstadt, 1871-1873. Smithsonian American Art Museum, object number saam_1979.98.440.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 11, January 1866-December 1878: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2007, pp. xxxv-xxxvi, 356-58.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897, p. 837.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1870, p. 45.

Contact information

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


August 14-October 10, 1871


  • Description and travel
  • Railroads
  • Trains
  • San Francisco, California
  • Travel
  • Railroads--Trains



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