Exploration Work of the Smithsonian Institution

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  • Work provides a history and background to the Smithsonian's sponsorship of scientific explorations. Although most of the SI expeditions aid in zoological exploration, a significant number contribute to the study of anthropology, botany, geology and geography. Clarifies that the SI was not able to afford to fund entire explorations, but in the area of North American explorations, the U.S. Government was participating in several surveys for cross- country railroad routes, geological and biological surveys, and coast and river/lake explorations. Still, the Smithsonian deserves credit for inspiring increased government participation. Explains that the legislation establishing the SI and its plan of organization for the SI call for such exploration and collecting, including ethnological researches and explorations and surveys of the mounds and remains of North America.
  • Points to Squier and Davis' "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" which was published by the SI and led to the publishing of like research in "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge" and "Annual Reports." Repeatedly True emphasizes Spencer F. Baird's interest in exploration, and how he furthered it at the SI. Work lists government explorations with which the Smithsonian was involved from the "Annual Report of 1856," including the Mexican Boundary Survey. Work describes the processes by which the SI became interested in explorations, beginning with the railroad surveys and then the geological surveys and the coastal/river surveys for the U.S. Fish Commission. Work also goes into detail on the closeness of the SI and USFC, especially when Baird was the Fish Commissioner, and recounts a brief history of the USFC.
  • It also touches on the Bureau of [American] Ethnology's origin with the explorations of the Colorado River by John Wesley Powell. Finally, it recounts several expeditions, including 1) exploration of prehistoric mounds of Wisconsin by the American Antiquarian Society, 2) exploration of California by E. Samuels (1855), 3) exploration of British America and Alaska by Robert Kennicott, 4) William Healey Dall's exploration of the Yukon River, 5) Leonhard Stejneger's exploration of the Commander Islands in the North Pacific (1882), 6) the 1890 West African Eclipse Expedition.


  • Powell, John Wesley 1834-1902
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Kennicott, Robert
  • Stejneger, Leonhard 1851-1943
  • United States Exploring Expedition (USEE)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge (Publication)
  • United States Fish Commission
  • United States National Museum
  • United States and Mexican Boundary Survey
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • American Antiquarian Society
  • Colorado River Survey


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Extensively footnoted.

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, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Surveys
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Natural History
  • Collectors and collecting
  • SI, Early History
  • Specimens
  • Annual Reports
  • Field Work
  • Museums
  • Museums--Collection management
  • Natural history

Physical description

pp. 459-480

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