Joseph Henry Dies




Date: May 13, 1878


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Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry dies at 12:10 pm at his residence in the Smithsonian Building. His health had rapidly deteriorated in the wake of his December 1877 paralytic attack. A private service would be held at the Henry residence on May 16, followed by a funeral at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The funeral would be attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes, Vice President William A. Wheeler, members of the Cabinet, the Supreme court, and Congress, diplomats, military officers, scientists, Princeton alumni, and so many other eminent individuals that "only a small portion of the vast concourse of citizens and strangers could gain access to the church." Henry had served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian from the time of its establishment in 1846 until his death. He would immediately be succeeded by Assistant Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Photograph of a portrait of Joseph Henry (1797-1878), physicist and first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1846-1878), painted by Henry Ulke in 1879. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number AI-10191.
  • 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. 654-56.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897, p. 115, 156, 838.
  • Rhees, William Jones. The Smithsonian Institution: Documents Relative to Its Origin and History: 1835-1899, Vol. 1, 1835-1887. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901, p. 801-802.

Contact information

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


May 13, 1878


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