Spencer Baird and the Scientific Investigation of the Northwest Atlantic, 1871-1887

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Discusses Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird's involvement in maritime research. His interest in the subject began when vacationing at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1870 while Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (he became Secretary in 1878), and developed into leading research expeditions off the New England and Nova Scotia coastal areas. Summer laboratories on sea-going vessels were organized in 1871, the same year Baird also became director of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries, and continued in various forms through 1887, the year of Baird's death. The expeditions were staffed by famous scientists of the time; they gathered specimens destined for the National Museum, and were given an outlet to publish their work. The research program was a major contributor to oceanic science, led to additional explorations further off the seacoasts, and contributed to making Woods Hole a major oceanographic research area.


  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States National Museum
  • United States Fish Commission
  • Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, Mass.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Three photographs are included in the article.

Contained within

The Northern Mariner Vol. VII, No. 2 (Journal)

Contact information

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


April 1997


  • Marine Biology
  • Scientific expeditions
  • Oceans
  • Secretaries
  • Ichthyology
  • Ecology
  • Oceanography
  • Marine biology


  • Northwest Atlantic
  • Woods Hole (Mass.)

Physical description

p. 31-39

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