Baird's Legacy: The History and Accomplishments of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, 1871 - 1996

Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact


  • This publication commemorates the 125th anniversary of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and serves as an interesting history of the United States' oldest Federal conservation and environmental research agency. NMFS was created by Congress in 1871 as the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Its first director was Spencer Baird, a scientist who had been named Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1850 (and was Smithsonian Secretary from 1878-1887), and who had first-hand knowledge of marine studies through work begun in 1863 at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In late 1870, Baird was the individual responsible for the Commission's formation when he suggested a plan for a Federal inquiry into New England's fishery problems.
  • The Fish Commission was soon established and charged with studying and recommending solutions to an apparent decline in New England's fishes. Baird organized the Commission's work into three categories: studies of U.S. waters and fishes and their biological and physical problems, studies of past and present fishing methods and compilation of fish catch and trade statistics, and the introduction and propagation of food fishes throughout the nation. Baird's original research agenda continued to serve the Commission well for over a century and remained in place through changes in affiliation with various government agencies, from being independent when first established to its 1970 placement within the Commerce Department's newly-established National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • Baird oversaw the 1882 launching of the Albatross oceanographic research ship, the first in a long line of highly-productive research vessels, and established the first marine studies laboratory at Wood's Hole. The Commission's work in fish culture and introductions, however, came to the forefront, and over the years fostered and advanced the hugely-successful aquaculture industry in the U.S.


  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States Bureau of Fisheries
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • United States Fish Commission
  • United States Congress
  • United States Bureau of Commercial Fisheries
  • Albatross (Steamer)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Many photographs and an extensive Chronology run throughout the 48-page paperback book.

Contact information

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




  • Oceanographic research ships
  • Oceans
  • Fishes
  • Secretaries
  • Fisheries
  • Marine resources
  • Ichthyology
  • History
  • Federal Government
  • Fisheries--History
  • Oceanography
  • Biography


  • United States
  • Woods Hole (Mass.)

Full Record

View Full Record