Joseph Henry's Letter to Harriet Henry (May 18, 1864)

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  • Letter from Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to Harriet Henry, his wife, May 18, 1864. Henry is writing from the Office of Light House Engineer in Boston, Massachusetts, where he is doing some experiments. He discusses the importance of his work as a member of the United States Light House Board and the financial aspects of finding the right oil for use in lighthouses. Henry also addresses the ongoing United States Civil War, and information he received regarding the end of conflicts in Virginia.
  • Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was appointed to the newly-established United States Light-House Board on September 25, 1852, serving as one of two civilian scientists. Alexander Dallas Bache, a physicist, head of the United States Coast Survey and Smithsonian Institution Regent, was the other civilian appointment. Henry would become Chairman of the Light-House Board in 1871, and would serve until is death in 1878.


  • Henry, Harriet A. 1808-1882
  • Bache, A. D (Alexander Dallas) 1806-1867
  • Regents Smithsonian Institution
  • United States Coast Survey
  • United States Light House Board


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


The accompanying PDF contains SIA2012-2660 and SIA2012-2661, which are pages scanned from the edited transcript of the original version and notes in the Joseph Henry Papers Volume 10, pages 374-375 (Document 213).

Contained within

  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7001, Box 57, Folder: 18 - 1860-1865
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 10, The Smithsonian Years: January 1858-December 1865 (Smithsonian Institution in association with Science History Publications/USA, 2004), 374-375

Contact information

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


  • May 18, 1864
  • Civil War, 1861-1865

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Letters
  • Secretaries
  • Science
  • Physicists
  • Finances
  • Lighthouses
  • History
  • Experiments
  • Light sources
  • Science--Experiments


  • United States
  • Boston (Mass.)
  • Virginia


  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2012-3540 and SIA2012-3541

Physical description

Number of Images: 2; Color: Color; Size: 8 1/2w x 11h; Type of Image: Document; Medium: Paper

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