Joseph Henry's Letter to Jefferson Davis (December 4, 1856)

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Letter from Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, December 4, 1856. In the letter, Henry responds to the request he received from the War Department for the Smithsonian to provide facts and suggestions concerning nitre, an substance found in gunpowder. He provides feedback he received from members of a commission devoted to chemistry and this topic in particular. He concludes by saying that, should the government and War Department find it necessary to produce the substance, if appropriations are made, the Smithsonian would conduct research and investigations in their laboratory.


  • Davis, Jefferson 1808-1889
  • United States War Dept
  • United States. Secretary of War


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


3 pages scanned from the edited transcript of the original version and notes in the Joseph Henry Papers Volume 9, pages 418-420 (Document 239).

Contained within

Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 9, The Smithsonian Years: January 1854-December 1857 (Smithsonian Institution in association with Science History Publications/USA, 2002), 418-420

Contact information

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


December 4, 1856

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Chemistry
  • Laboratories
  • Letters
  • Secretaries
  • Expenditures, Public
  • Firearms
  • Commissions
  • Research


  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2012-3426 and SIA2012-3427 and SIA2012-3428

Physical description

Number of Images: 3 ; Color: Black and White ; Size: 6 3/4w x 10h ; Type of Image: Document ; Medium: Paper

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