The Smithsonian: 150 Years of Adventure, Discovery, and Wonder

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A coffee-table volume that surveys the history and scope of the Smithsonian Institution, from its founding to the present, produced for the Institution's 150th anniversary in 1996. The book is organized roughly according to the eras of the Institution's first ten Secretaries: Joseph Henry, Spencer Fullerton Baird, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Charles Dootlittle Walcott, Charles Greeley Abbot, Alexander Wetmore, Leonard Carmichael, S. Dillon Ripley, Robert McCormick Adams, and I. Michael Heyman, and covers all aspects of the Institution's activities, from museums to astrophysics to its folklife festival.


  • Adams, Robert McCormick 1926-2018
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Wetmore, Alexander 1886-
  • Abbot, C. G (Charles Greeley) b. 1872
  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Heyman, Ira Michael 5/30/1930-11/19/2011
  • Carmichael, Leonard 1898-1973


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


This volume contains so many factual errors and questionable interpretations that it should be used with great caution. It is an attractive coffee-table book with lavish illustrations, its greatest strength. Among the factual errors are the statement that we know that James Smithson was born in Paris in 1765 (we think this is possible but do not know for certain), and that Smithson was imprisoned by Napoleon for five years for speaking out against Napoleon (Smithson was imprisoned for two years during the Napoleonic Wars but there is no evidence this is because he criticized Napoleon). We have not been able to substantiate several quotes used in the book, such as Secretary Charles Doolittle Walcott's letter to President Woodrow Wilson, cited on page 212. Scholars should ensure that they have at least one other source for any material found in this book.

Contact information

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




  • Secretaries
  • Collectors and collecting
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • SI, Early History
  • Museums
  • Management
  • Management--Museums

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