Joseph Henry's Letter to Barton Stone Alexander (February 27, 1869)

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Letter from Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to Barton Stone Alexander, an army engineer who had overseen the completion of the Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle," in 1855. In the letter written on February 27, 1869, Henry discusses building techniques that would benefit architecture in San Francisco, California, which often experiences earthquakes. After he was appointed Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry's first major project was to create the Smithsonian Meteorological Project by using a countrywide network of voluntary observers to record climate information, including data about earthquakes, and send it to the Smithsonian via the growing telegraph network. The Smithsonian Meteorological Project existed from 1846-1870 and led to the founding of the National Weather Service.


  • Alexander, B. S (Barton Stone) 1819-1878
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers
  • Meteorological Project


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


4 pages scanned from the edited transcript of the original version and notes in the Joseph Henry Papers Volume 11, pages 228-231 (Document 112).

Contained within

Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 11, The Smithsonian Years: January 1866-May 1878 (Smithsonian Institution in association with Science History Publications/USA, 2007), 228-231

Contact information

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


February 27, 1869

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Earthquakes
  • Secretaries
  • Letters
  • San Francisco, California
  • Structural engineering
  • Meteorology
  • Engineers
  • Building


  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2011-2812 and SIA2011-2813 and SIA2011-2814 and SIA2011-2815

Physical description

Number of Images: 4 ; Color: Black and White ; Size: 7.00w x 10.00h ; Type of Image: Document ; Medium: Paper

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