Professor Baird as Administrator

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  • This eulogy, by William B. Taylor, was read aloud at a memorial service for Spencer Fullerton Baird, second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Taylor affectionately relates reminiscences of his friend's life and achievements beginning with his birth in Reading, Pennsylvania on February 3, 1823, his 1840 graduation from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and his appointment as Professor of Natural History by his alma mater in 1845. Taylor relates that Baird had an innate fondness for natural history; he studied the outdoor world and collected animal specimens for preservation. While still pursuing these studies, in 1848, he applied for and obtained the Smithsonian Institution's first grant for the promotion of original research, which involved the exploration of bone caves and development of local natural history in southeastern Pennsylvania.
  • This transaction brought Baird to the attention of the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, and initiated mutual respect and a life-long friendship between the two men. In 1859, Henry appointed Baird as Assistant Secretary in the Smithsonian's Department of Natural History to take charge of the Museum, and to assist in the publication as well as other interests of the Smithsonian. Henry described Baird as being "the right man in the right place." He performed all his duties with boundless enthusiasm and among his many accomplishments were the refinement and expansion of the Smithsonian's system of international scientific exchanges, oversaw the transfer of the Patent Office collections to the Smithsonian Building in 1858, and worked to gather more collections for the Museum.
  • In 1871, Baird took on another responsibility when he was appointed Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries by President Ulysses S. Grant and in this role, and in this capacity began a more in depth investigation of the reasons behind the steady decline of the nation's fish supply. He concluded that man was the main cause for the depletion and published his findings in the reports and bulletins of the Commission as well as in the proceedings and bulletins of the National Museum. Baird promoted the rapid propagation of fish and under his direction, careful studies of the methods of artificial propagation were conducted and subsequently improved upon. Success was attained to such a degree that the United States began the export of many fishes to other countries.
  • Baird was the leading spirit in all that pertained to ethnology and natural history, and he possessed remarkable powers of organization and executive management. He formulated details of the 1876 Smithsonian exhibit at the National Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia; in 1880, he appointed George Brown Goode as his deputy to oversee the award-winning American exhibit at the International Fisheries Exhibition in Berlin, Germany. After Joseph Henry's death in 1878, Baird was elected Secretary by the Board of Regents. He was given additional responsibilities in 1879. When the U. S. Congress directed that North American ethnology be studied, Baird appointed John Wesley Powell, Director of the Geological Survey, to run the new Bureau of Ethnology.
  • That year Congress also appropriated funds to erect a national museum building. When it was completed in 1882, Baird became the manager of three great concerns: the Fisheries Commission, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Museum. But even Baird's legendary energy was drained by the duties required by his diverse work. When his medical adviser recommended rest from all intellectual exertion, Baird asked the Regents to appoint two official assistants. The Regents complied with the appointment of Samuel Langley as assistant in charge of Smithsonian operations, and George Brown Goode as assistant in charge of Museum affairs. A year later, Baird died on August 19, 1887.


  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Powell, John Wesley 1834-1902
  • Goode, G. Brown (George Brown) 1851-1896
  • Grant, Ulysses S (Ulysses Simpson) 1822-1885
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • United States National Museum
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • United States Patent Office
  • United States Fish Commission
  • United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1888 (Book)

Contact information

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




  • International Fisheries Exhibition
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Secretaries
  • SI, Early History
  • Exhibitions
  • Fisheries
  • Museums
  • History
  • National Collections
  • Museum exhibits
  • Fisheries--History
  • Biography


United States

Physical description

Number of pages : 9; Page numbers : 721-729

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