Letter from Charles D. Walcott to President Woodrow Wilson, November 26, 1917

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Letter from fourth Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott in response to President Woodrow Wilson's request to use all of the Smithsonian's Natural History Building for the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Secretary Walcott enumerates all of the delays and difficulties in making space available and offers other suggestions, such as building temporary quarters on Smithsonian grounds.


  • Wilson, Woodrow 1856-1924
  • United States National Museum
  • United States Bureau of War Risk Insurance
  • Natural History Building


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


The Bureau of War Risk Insurance was founded in 1914 by the US Congress to ensure the availability of marine insurance during WWI. The bureau was located within the US Department of the Treasury and provided insurance policies and paid claims to sailors during WWI.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 192, Box 194, Folder: 1

Contact information

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


  • November 26, 1917
  • 20th century

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • WW I
  • World War, 1914-1918


  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Paper

ID Number

SIA2014-06990 and SIA2014-6991

Physical description

Number of Images: 2 Color: Color Size: 8.5w x11h Type of Image: Letters Medium: Paper

Full Record

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C O P Y SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION WASHINGTON November 26, 1917. Dear Mr. President: I have the honor to submit the following statement and suggestion in reply to your letter of November 23rd in relation to additional space in the new National Museum building for the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. The space first assigned, about 15,000 square feet, was in response to a request for room in which to organize the work of the Bureau, search being made outside meantime for additional space that would be needed. The Museum space assigned was that used for temporary Government and other exhibits, and I assumed the responsibility of permitting the Bureau to use it. Later, in response to the request of November 5th, I assigned 10,000 feet of additional space obtained by removing the reference collections of the Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture to an upper floor. It is exceedingly doubtful if I had the right to permit such use of the building without the formal consent of the Board of Regents and probably of the Congress, as the buildings are by Act of Congress placed in charge of the Board of Regents for a specific purpose. I did it as a war risk measure. In your letter of November 23rd you request the Board of Regents to place at the disposal of the Bureau of War Risk Insurance from sixty to eighty thousand square feet of additional space, either on the second or third floor or such parts thereof as may be available. To do this would involve: 1st. Several days delay in securing a meeting of the Board of Regents. 2d. The settlement of the question as to whether the Board of Regents has the power to grant such use of the Museum building to the Treasury Department without action by the Congress. 3d. The closing to the public of both the Natural History Museum and the Industrial Museum contained in the old Museum building. 4th. The Employment of a large technically trained force of men to properly handle and pack the collections. Such a force is not now available. 5th. A period of three to four months in which to pack and transfer the collections elsewhere. 6th. The destruction and deterioration of a large amount of unique Museum exhibits that could not be replaced. From 40 to 60 per cent of the collections are gifts to the American people held in trust by the Board of Regents. Some $2,000,000 or more in value of loan exhibits would have to be packed and returned to the owners.
[[underlined]]Suggestion[[/underlined]]. - The suggestion I have to make and which, if it should meet with your approval, can be put into operation at once, is as follows: 1st.-Erect temporary quarters to the east of the new Museum building that, with the 25,000 square feet of space now being filled up by employees, can be developed as rapidly as the expanding work of the Bureau will need the space. 2d. -Erect east of the new Museum building and between that building and 7th street, one-story wooden and lined barrack buildings, connected by covered passages and heated by steam. Steam could be obtained either from the War Department plant on the square west of 7th street or from the extra Museum plant. The Fuller Construction Company estimates that the cost of the outside wooden buildings will be about $1.50 per[[strikethrough]]s[[/strikethrough]] square foot. The work of construction can be started at once. If reasonable sp[[overwritten]]p[[/overwritten]]^[[e]]ed and results are obtained, the space needed can be made available as required. In view of all conditions, I wish to strongly recommend that the suggested course be pursued, as it will be more economical and subject to much less delay and adverse criticism. I have the honor to be, Sir, Very respectfully yours, (Signed) CHARLES D. WALCOTT Secretary. The President, The White House, Washington, D. C.