Science in the Civil War: The Permanent Commission of the Navy Department

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Summary

  • This article discusses the work of the the Permanent Commission of the Navy Department, which was established in February 1863 to review proposals for inventions to assist the war effort. Because there were no industrial producers of military hardware, the government relied on what the author calls "the chance, unreliable labors of inventors and amateurs of science," and "inventors literally besieged official Washington after the outbreak of war (308)." In an effort to keep up and to identify inventions that might be useful, the Navy established the three member Permanent Commission and appointed Charles Henry Davis, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Alexander Dallas Bache, Superintendent of the Coast Survey, and Joseph Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian. Bache's assistant and a General with the Army Corps of Engineers were soon added.
  • Because all three of the Commission's original members were also involved with the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences in March 1863, the author explains that a somewhat awkward relationship developed between the organizations, with the Permanent Commission sometimes referring questions to a committee of the Academy on which the same persons served. (Bache was also President of the National Academy). The author goes on to discuss some of the specific inventions reviewed by the Commission, providing the work of baking soda inventor Eben Horsford as an example.

Subject

  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Bache, A. D (Alexander Dallas) 1806-1867
  • Davis, Charles Henry 1807-1877
  • United States Dept. of the Navy
  • National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
  • Permanent Commission of the Navy

Category

Smithsonian History Bibliography

Notes

The author, who was with the National Archives when this article was written, later edited volumes 1 through 5 of The Papers of Joseph Henry.

Contained within

Isis Vol. 49, No. 3 (Journal)

Contact information

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

Date

  • 1958
  • Civil War, 1861-1865

Topic

  • Boats and boating
  • Inventors
  • Inventions
  • History
  • Ships

Place

United States

Physical description

Number of pages: 12; Page numbers: 307-318

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