Smithsonian Meteorological Observer Network Transferred to War Department




Date: February 2, 1874


Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact
Download IIIF Manifest Request permissions Download image Print

Narrow Your Results


Filter Your Results

Smithsonian Secretaries Information

Close Browse records and papers of the Smithsonian Secretaries, from 1846 until today. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by individuals who have held that office.

Expeditions Information

Close Browse records and papers documenting scientific and collecting expeditions either affiliated with the Smithsonian, or with which Smithsonian researchers participated. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by geographic regions predominantly represented in expedition records.

Professional Societies Information

Close Browse records of professional societies closely associated with the Smithsonian, that focus on areas of scientific research and museum studies. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by major topics and disciplines.


Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry sends a letter to the his volunteer meteorological observers to inform them that one of the first scientific projects initiated by the Smithsonian, its meteorology program, is now transferred to the War Department's Signal Office. The transfer takes place in accordance with Henry's "policy that the Institution should devote its energies to no field of research which can be as well cultivated by other means." in 1870, Congress had passed a bill that put storm and weather predictions in the hands of the U.S. Army's Signal Service. By 1874, Henry convinced the Signal Service to take over the volunteer observer system as well. After the transfer, the Smithsonian's meteorology work would consist of the study of materials collected during the previous twenty-five years. This includes the preparation of a 16 by 12 foot meteorological map for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • United States Signal Service
  • United States War Dept
  • Meteorological Project
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Henry circular to meteorological observers, February 1, 1874. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2012-1086.
  • Goode gives the date of transfer as December 31, 1873, (pp. 677 and 838), possibly because Joseph Henry first announced it in his annual report for 1873, which he wrote in January 1874, and in which he states the transfer is about to take place.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 11, January 1866-December 1878: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2007, pp. xxx, 478-79, 485-87.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897., p. 676-678, 838.
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1873, p. 31(
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1874, p. 16 (
  • Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1875, p. 19, 27 (
  • Fleming, James Rodger. Meteorology in America, 1800-1870. Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990., p. 161-162
  • Millikan, Frank Rives. "Joseph Henry: Father of the Weather Service," Smithsonian Institution Archives Web site,

Contact information

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


February 2, 1874


  • Policies
  • Secretaries
  • Exhibitions
  • Interagency Transfers
  • Meteorology
  • Maps

Full Record

View Full Record