West and East: The California Academy of Sciences and The Smithsonian Institution, 1852-1906

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  • This article traces a wide range of relationships between two scientific organizations, the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1846, and the California Academy of Sciences, which was founded by a group of seven men in San Francisco in 1853. The Smithsonian's programs were supported by the James Smithson endowment and Congressional appropriations funded its museum operations, but the Academy struggled financially until the 1870's. At that time first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, elected an honorary member of the Academy shortly after it was established, persuaded James Lick to bequest a building site and funding resources for the Academy and its activities. The Academy was involved in Henry's meteorological work in the west, and second Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird was especially involved with the Academy's publication program.
  • Although logistical and staffing problems brought occasional difficulties, the two organizations operated an exchange program to trade specimens for publications. Secretary Henry recognized the Academy's need for a reference library and in 1873 approved shipment to it of over 2,000 books which were duplicates remaining after the Smithsonian library was transferred to the Library of Congress. Following the tenures of Secretaries Henry and Baird, the Academy's relations with the Smithsonian evolved from contacts between organization leaders to one of contacts between individual scientists of each entity. The authors note that after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Smithsonian was instrumental in helping to rebuild the Academy's scientific and library collections.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • California Academy of Sciences History
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Library of Congress
  • Meteorological Project
  • Library of Congress Relations with the Smithsonian


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Twenty-nine figures and an extensive Notes section accompany the article.

Contained within

Cultures and Institutions of Natural History: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (Book)

Contact information

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




  • Museum buildings
  • Smithsonian influence
  • Secretaries
  • History, organization, etc
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Societies
  • Societies--History, organization, etc
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees


  • San Francisco Bay Area (Calif.)
  • California

Physical description

pgs. 183-202

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