An Account of the United States National Museum

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  • Although this work is ostensibly a summary of the workings of the U. S. National Museum in the first half century of the Smithsonian's existence, it focuses much attention on the birth of the USNM, beginning with the genesis (1841) and decline (1861) of the United States Patent Office Collection and the National Institute. It explains how the appointment of Spencer F. Baird as Assistant Secretary in charge of Publications and Museum in 1850, and his subsequent idea of forging a strong tie between the SI and government-sponsored expeditions, brought many new collections to the SI. The article also mentions Henry's lack of desire to undertake the financial strains of the upkeep of the government's museum collection but explained that Baird's successes eventually brought him around.
  • In 1857, the Regents agreed that the Patent Office collections be transferred to the SI, adding to 23 other government collections already housed at the SI. This, as well as the SI's participation in expositions, including the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, propelled the SI to petition for an appropriation for a National Museum building, which was agreed to in 1879 and completed in 1881. This is now the Arts and Industries Building.
  • This chapter continues with the recounting of the "chief excellences of the collections and ... some of the treasures" including the Department of Mammals' and the Department of Birds' collections from the United States Exploring Expedition and Mexican Boundary Survey, the Department of Birds' specimens from the Audubon collection and the private collection of Spencer Baird, collections of the Departments of Mollusks, Fishes, Reptiles and Batrachians, Insects, Marine Invertebrates, Comparative Anatomy, Geology, Botany, Ethnology, Arts and Industries, and the Sections of Oriental Antiquities and Religious Ceremonials, Historical Collections, Transportation, Engineering and Naval Architecture, Physical Apparatus, Materia Medica and the Section of Graphic Arts.
  • Finally, the work explains that, in the beginning, there were not funds for an adequate full-time staff so many well- known scholars volunteered to categorize and arrange the collections and this "scientific elaboration of the collections" resulted in the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge" and "Miscellaneous Collections." To keep track of these collections, in 1878, the "Proceedings of the USNM," "Bulletin of the USNM" and the "Special Bulletin of the USNM" were incorporated.


  • Goode, G. Brown (George Brown) 1851-1896
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Rhees, William Jones 1830-1907
  • United States National Museum
  • Division of Birds (USNM)
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Division of Mollusks
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Mammals
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Fishes
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Reptiles and Batrachians
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Division of Insects
  • United States National Museum Division of Marine Invertebrates
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Comparative Anatomy
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Botany
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • United States National Museum Dept. of Arts and Industries
  • United States National Museum Section of Oriental Antiquities and Religious Ceremonials
  • Historical Collections, Section of
  • United States National Museum Section of Transportation
  • United States National Museum Dept. Engineering and Naval Architecture
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) Division of Graphic Arts
  • Physical Apparatus, Section of
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge (Publication)
  • Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Publication)
  • Proceedings of the United States National Museum
  • Special Bulletin of the United States National Museum (publication)
  • United States Congress
  • Board of Regents
  • National Institute
  • National Institution for the Promotion of Science
  • Arts and Industries Building
  • United States Fish Commission
  • Patent Office Building (POB)
  • United States Patent Office
  • United States Exploring Expedition (USEE)
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


True admits that the first part of this paper is "little more than a paraphrase of portions of his [Goode's] writings" incorporated into True's section since Goode died before the publication of the volume. True also extensively footnotes this section.

Contained within

The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of its First Half Century (Book)

Contact information

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




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