Arthur Brown -- the Forgotten 'Assistant for All Seasons'

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  • Biography of Arthur Brown, who was an indispensable, jack-of-all-trades assistant to the fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Charles Doolittle Walcott. Born in Virginia in 1865 as the son of a slave, Brown met Walcott, then a prominent United States Geological Survey geologist/paleontologist, in the early 1890's after beginning federal employment at the USGS in lower-level positions before promotion to messenger by 1901. Walcott had became USGS Director in 1894 while also conducting work for the National Museum. Brown's abilities as a trusted USGS aide were likely proven by 1898, as Walcott chose Brown to accompany him on a geological field trip that summer to Yellowstone National Park. This trip was the first of many such expeditions for Brown, as he was on most undertaken by Walcott during the next twenty-seven years.
  • Still classified as a messenger, Brown moved to the Smithsonian when Walcott became Secretary in 1907; he performed other duties, such as butler, and was considered a member of the Walcott household. Brown also handled the task of cutting Walcott's fossil samples from 35,000 shale slabs returned to Washington, D.C. from field expeditions; he did this work in the Smithsonian Castle Building when not performing messenger duties. His talents as an organizer, camp leader, trail cook and friend to the Walcott family were brought out during his many years on field expeditions to the American West and Canadian Pacific areas, and are evident in recorded recollections of family members and others quoted by the author. Walcott died in 1927; Brown left the Smithsonian's payroll records in 1928, and the date and place of his death are unknown.


  • Brown, Arthur
  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The author is a Research Associate, Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Four photographs of Arthur Brown are included in the article.

Contained within

Marrella Vol. 7 (Journal)

Contact information

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


Summer 1998


  • Scientific expeditions
  • Secretaries
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Burgess Shale (B.C.)
  • Fossils
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees
  • Biography
  • African Americans


  • Yellowstone National Park
  • British Columbia

Physical description

pgs. 10-14

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