Joseph Henry Elected First Smithsonian Secretary




Date: December 3, 1846


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Professor Joseph Henry (1797-1878) of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) receives seven out of twelve votes cast by the Smithsonian Board of Regents for the position as the first Secretary (the executive officer of the Smithsonian Institution), on December 3, 1846. The Board then unanimously passes a resolution approving the election of Henry, who went on to serve a 32-year term from 1846 until his death in 1878. The 49-year-old Henry is well known in the scientific world as a "natural philosopher" because of his basic discoveries in the field of electromagnetism.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Board of Regents
  • Princeton University


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Journal of Proceedings of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution can be found in: Smithsonian Institution Report, 1846-1852.
  • Image is a daguerreotype portrait of Joseph Henry taken c. 1840-1850. The original is owned by the Chicago Historical Society. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2011-1451.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897, pp. 58, 834.
  • Oehser, Paul H. The Smithsonian Institution. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970, pp. 26-27.
  • Journal of Proceedings of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution at the City of Washington. Washington, D.C.: John T. Towers, 1846, p. 22.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, ed. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, pp. 555-556.

Contact information

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


December 3, 1846


  • Secretariats
  • Appointments
  • Secretaries
  • Electromagnets
  • Physicists
  • Major Events in Smithsonian History
  • Electromagnetism

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