Joseph Henry Becomes Chairman of U.S. Light-House Board




Date: October 1871


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Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry agrees to chair the U.S. Light-House Board, on which he had served since its establishment in 1852. In addition to his role as chairman of the board's committee on experiments, Henry was now responsible for overseeing the board's $1.6 million budget and a work force which included more than 800 lighthouse keepers. Henry arranges to devote one day a week to his new duties, in addition to his established practice of spending vacations conducting experiments and investigations in lighthouses or at sea. He fills this position until his death in 1878.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • United States Light House Board


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • This model represents the U.S. Lighthouse Tender Joseph Henry, a side-wheeled steamer built by Howard & Company in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1880. This 180-foot-long vessel was built for service along the nation's inland waterways. Lighthouse tenders served both coastal and inland areas by delivering supplies, fuel, news, and relief and maintenance crew to lighthouses and lightships. They also maintained aids to navigation, including markers identifying channels, shoals, and obstructions. Based out of Memphis, the Joseph Henry worked along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers until 1904. Created 1880. National Museum of American History, negative number nmah_844257.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 11, January 1866-December 1878: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2007, pp. xl-xlv, 368-71.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1871, p. 36.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1878, p. 136.

Contact information

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


October 1871


  • Signals and signaling
  • Secretaries
  • Optics

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