William Wesley Karr, Disbursing Clerk and Accountant, 1879-1905, is dismissed from the Smithsonian and prosecuted for embezzling. Assistant Secretary Richard Rathbun was appointed Acting Secretary in 1905, after Langley had a stroke. Rathbun immediately checked the books and found that Karr had embezzled at least $60,000 in trust funds and $7,000 in federal funds. The situation highlighted the need for checks and balances, since Karr had consolidated disbursing and reviewing the books into a single person. Karr was Secretary Samuel P. Langley's trusted assistant and had accompanied him from the Allegheny Observatory. Karr had used the funds to purchase property in Memphis, Tennessee.


  • Karr, William Wesley
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Rathbun, Richard 1852-1918


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • General Notes
  • Smithsonian Archives, Record Unit 31, Office of the Secretary, Records, Box 38, Folders 2-10.

Contact information

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




  • Accounting
  • Personnel management
  • Crime
  • Employees
  • Theft
  • Employee theft

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