The California Academy of Sciences - A Narrative History: 1853 - 1906

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  • A historical sketch of the first 50 years of the California Academy of Sciences, the oldest scientific society in the western U.S., was produced by Academy member Theodore H. Hittell, a noted attorney and writer, for presentation at the Semi-Centennial Meeting of the Academy in 1903. (One of the book's appendices is an "In Memoriam" biography of Hittell.) Also intended by Hittell to be the introductory chapter to an annotated chronology of the Academy from its founding in 1853 through early 1906, his sketch and the chronology survived the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire, but their publication was set aside as the Academy needed to direct its resources to rebuilding at that time.
  • The editors use Hittell's manuscript, augmented by additional information from the Minute Books of Academy meetings, and many other sources, as the basis for this book, and note their intention for it to be used as a reference work, not an analytic history of the Academy. The book's 37 chapters are ordered chronologically from 1853 through 1906, with each chapter covering one or two years in the Academy's history during that time.
  • The editors' research found many references to the Smithsonian Institution, which donated specimens for the museum over the years, as well as the three Smithsonian Secretaries who served during the period: Joseph Henry, Spencer F. Baird, and Samuel P. Langley. Each was made an honorary member of the Academy; Henry donated thousands of scientific books to the Academy's library, and addressed the annual meeting of the Academy in 1871. When the Academy was struggling to rebuild its museum and library after the 1906 disaster, the Smithsonian played an instrumental role by contributing a complete set of Smithsonian Reports, books, and other publications, and by offering to coordinate needed aid from other scientific organizations around the world.


  • Hittell, Theodore Henry 1830-1917
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • California Academy of Sciences History


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


623 pages, including 13 Appendices totaling 77 pages, a 57-page Index, and a number of photographs and illustrations.

Contact information

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




  • Museum buildings
  • Smithsonian influence
  • Earthquakes
  • Secretaries
  • Natural History
  • History, organization, etc
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Societies
  • Societies--History, organization, etc
  • Biography
  • Natural history


  • San Francisco Bay Area (Calif.)
  • California



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