First Object Accessioned into the US National Museum

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The first objects are accessioned into the US National Museum after Spencer F. Baird is appointed the first curator of the USNM in 1850. The accession consists of birds collected by John Kirk Townsend (1809-1851) while on an expedition across the Rockies to the Columbia River in 1834-1835. Townsend was the first trained naturalist to travel that far west. In 1834, he sent specimens to the National Institute for the Promotion of Science in Washington, D.C., for their small museum collection and the birds were cataloged as their first accession. That collection was later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution after it was founded in 1846. Townsend's birds were then the first museum objects accessioned into the US National Museum at the Smithsonian.


  • Townsend, John Kirk 1809-1851
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States National Museum
  • National Institute for the Promotion of Science
  • National Collections
  • National Institute


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • John Kirk Townsend chronicled his trip in Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River, Philadelphia: H Perkins, 1839, reprinted as Across the Rockies to the Columbia, introduction by Donald Jackson, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, US National Museum Accession Records, RU 305, Box 1, Folder 1.

Contact information

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


c. 1850


  • Mountains
  • Animals
  • Firsts
  • Accessions
  • Collectors and collecting
  • Specimens
  • SI, Early History
  • Birds
  • Expeditions
  • Collection and preservation
  • Ornithology
  • Birds--Collection and preservation


  • Rocky Mountains
  • Hawaii
  • West (U.S.)
  • Columbia River

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