Charles Doolittle Walcott

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  • This eulogy of Charles D. Walcott, fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, praises Walcott as a leader in American science. He is described as a self-determined individual with an engaging personality, and as a talented scientist who directed his exceptional business acumen toward the public good.
  • The author notes Walcott's birth in Oneida County, New York, on March 31, 1850, and comments on his attraction to science and fossil collecting at an early age. Although family circumstances did not allow him to pursue a college degree after high school, Walcott enhanced his formal education with additional self-directed study and reading. In 1873, he planned to study at Harvard under Louis Agassiz, but that intention ended with the death of Agassiz later that year. However, Walcott persevered and in 1876 secured his first professional appointment, as an assistant to the state geologist of New York.
  • Walcott began work at the United States Geological Survey in 1879, conducting studies on fossil identification in the American West and Appalachian areas, from Alabama to Eastern Canada. He traveled to Wales in 1888 to study the Cambrian system, and presented his research before the International Geological Congress in London.
  • Walcott's talents for handling research and administrative duties simultaneously were demonstrated during his service as director of the United States Geological Survey from 1894 through 1907. His work and leadership there led to the establishment of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Mines.
  • In 1907, Walcott was selected as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He had served earlier as Acting Assistant Secretary in charge of the National Museum, developing its paleontology collections and devising new methods of mounting specimens. Walcott's wide-ranging abilities were fully utilized during his 20-year tenure as Secretary. He inaugurated the National Gallery of Art [now the Smithsonian American Art Museum] as a separate branch of the Smithsonian Institution in 1920, and directed research investigations in various parts of the world, including the African expedition of Theodore Roosevelt in 1909-1910.
  • Walcott's research in Cambrian geology and paleontology continued throughout his lifetime, but was largely concentrated in British Columbia after he became secretary. He was awarded five medals for his research over the years, including the Wollaston medal from the Geological Society of London; he was also the recipient of many academic honors.
  • Walcott held offices in a number of professional associations and societies during various periods of time. He was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, first president of the Geological Society of Washington, president of the Geological Society of America, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. Walcott was also secretary and administrative officer of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, served as vice chairman of the National Research Council, chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and chairman of the Military Committee.
  • The author lauds Walcott as "not only a scientist among scientists, but as a man among men." Few mentions are made of Walcott's private life, but the author notes the losses of a son in action in World War I, his wife, Helena Stevens Walcott, and a second son. However, he also remarks on the pleasure and fulfillment both Walcott and wife Mary Vaux Walcott experienced during their stays in the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta.


  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • Walcott, Mary Vaux 1860-1940
  • Walcott, Helena Breese Stevens
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 1858-1919
  • Agassiz, Louis 1807-1873
  • Walcott, B. Stuart
  • Walcott, Sidney Stevens
  • United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • United States National Museum
  • National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Philosophical Society
  • United States National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
  • United States Bureau of Mines
  • Geological Society of America
  • Washington Academy of Sciences
  • National Collection of Fine Arts
  • National Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian
  • United States Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service
  • National Research Council
  • Carnegie Institution of Washington
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Geological Society of London
  • Geological Society of Washington
  • Smithsonian African Expedition (1909-1910)
  • International Geological Congress


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


  • Footnote on Page 555 states: "Reprinted by permission, with different illustrations and some additions, from the American Journal of Science, fifth series, Vol. XIV, No. 79, July 1927." Two photographs are included.
  • "Burgess Shale (B.C.)" is included on the Subject list even though it is not specifically cited by the author.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1927 (Book)

Contact information

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




  • Professional associations
  • Awards and Honors
  • Awards
  • Geology
  • Geologists
  • Secretaries
  • Invertebrates, Fossil
  • Burgess Shale (B.C.)
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Societies
  • Paleontology
  • Medals
  • Biography


British Columbia

Physical description

pp. 555-561

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