Joseph Henry's Letter to Louis Agassiz (November 24, 1870)

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  • Letter from Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to Louis Agassiz, a Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, and geologist, November 24, 1870. In the letter, Henry discusses the National Academy of Sciences and his belief that no institution seeking to influence the world of science should be subordinate to the government and depend solely on appropriations from the government to stay in operation. However, he notes that there are possible advantages to being linked with the government, including prestige, and claims that a 'National' institution must have a permanent home in Washington, DC. Henry goes on to discuss in detail his recent trip to Europe, and speaks highly of Switzerland.
  • The National Academy of Sciences was established on March 3, 1863, by an act of the United States Congress. The purpose of the Academy was to advance science and to advise the federal government on scientific matters. Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was named as one of the academy's fifty members and chaired its inaugural meeting in New York. He initially declined a leadership position due to his role at the Smithsonian, but would become the Academy's president in 1868. The Smithsonian furnished rooms in the Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle," to the organization for its meetings and library.


  • Agassiz, Louis 1807-1873
  • National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
  • United States Congress
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


The accompanying PDF contains SIA2012-3126, SIA2012-3127, SIA2012-3128, SIA2012-3129, SIA2012-3130, and SIA2012-3131, which are pages scanned from the edited transcript of the original version and notes in the Joseph Henry Papers Volume 11, pages 323-328 (Document 157).

Contained within

  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7001, Box 4A, Folder: 1
  • 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), 323-328

Contact information

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


November 24, 1870

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Geologists
  • Paleontologists
  • Secretaries
  • Letters
  • Science
  • Expenditures, Public


  • Europe
  • Switzerland
  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Washington (D.C.)


  • Document
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2012-7621 and SIA2012-7622 and SIA2012-7623 and SIA2012-7624 and SIA2012-7625 and SIA2012-7626 and SIA2012-7627 and SIA2012-7628 and SIA2012-7629 and SIA2012-7630

Physical description

Number of Images: 10 ; Color: Color ; Size: 7.79w x 10.00h ; Type of Image: Document ; Medium: Paper

Full Record

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