The First Smithsonian Guidebook

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Article discusses the first Visitor's Guide to the Smithsonian Institution. Authored by William J. Rhees, "An Account of the Smithsonian Institution, its Founder, Building, Operations, Etc.," was first published in 1857. The guide gave a biography of founder James Smithson, described Institution operations in the library, lecture hall, sculpture and picture galleries and laboratories, and led the reader on a "tour" of the building, complete with woodcut prints of various rooms. Collections were transferred and installed in the building within the next few years to create the National Museum. At the suggestion of the museum's first "keeper," John Varden, Rhees included a detailed guide to the new National Museum's exhibits in the 1859 edition.


  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Rhees, William Jones 1830-1907
  • Varden, John c. 1790-1865
  • An Account of the Smithsonian Institution, its Founder, Building, Operations, Etc. (Publication)
  • United States National Museum
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Article includes a photograph of the Museum Hall in 1867.

Contained within

Smithsonian Preservation Quarterly (Newsletter)

Contact information

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


Fall 1993


  • Smithsonian Institution
  • SI, Early History
  • Museums
  • Visitor's Guide
  • Museum publications
  • Biography

Physical description

p. 2

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