Stories from the Smithsonian

Solomon Brown: First African American Employee at the Smithsonian Institution

Solomon G. Brown, by Unknown, 1891, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SA-754 and SIA2007-0039.

Solomon G. Brown (c.1829–1906) was the first African American employee at the Smithsonian Institution, serving for fifty-four years from 1852 to 1906. During his time at the Smithsonian, he held many titles and performed many duties in service to the Institution. He served under the first three...More

Mary Henry: Eyewitness to the Civil War

Mary Henry, Daughter of Secretary Henry

“We went up into the high tower to see the troops pass over into Virginia.” Mary Anna Henry (1834–1903) wrote this line in her diary on July 16, 1861. Mary Henry was the daughter of Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. She lived with her family in the Smithsonian...More

William Healey Dall: Alaskan Explorer

William Healey Dall Wearing his Expedition Uniform

Dean of Alaskan explorations, William Healey Dall (1845–1927) began his scientific career as a member of the Scientific Corps of the Alaskan Western Union Telegraph Expedition in 1865. In 1871, he was appointed to the United States Coast Survey, where he continued his studies of Alaska and the...More

The Wright Brothers: Pioneers in Aviation

Wright Bros. Letter - April 17, 1903

Wilbur Wright (April 16, 1867–May 30, 1912) and Orville Wright (August 19, 1871–January 30, 1948) were the inventors of the first successful airplane. They first wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in May of 1899 to request information about publications on aeronautics. At this time, they were...More

Robert H. Goddard: American Rocket Pioneer

Robert Goddard Report  - March 1920 - Page 1

Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882-1945) is considered the father of modern rocketry. One of Goddard's many firsts was the successful test of the world's first liquid-propelled rocket. Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 5, 1882. He was often ill as a child and had extended...More

James Smithson: Founder of the Smithsonian Institution

James Smithson Engraving

James Smithson (c. 1765-1829), founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution, was born in 1765 in France with the name James Lewis Macie. The illegitimate son of Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie and Hugh Smithson, 1st Duke of Northumberland, he changed his name as well as his citizenship, becoming...More

James Renwick, Jr., Architect of Smithsonian Buildings

James Renwick Jr. Drawing of the Smithsonian Castle

Architect James Renwick, Jr. (November 1, 1818–June 23, 1895) designed some of the most famous buildings in America. His eclectic style emerged from his background in engineering, his understanding of history, and his worldly views of art and architecture. Renwick's body of work spans a variety of...More

William Temple Hornaday: Saving the American Bison

Hornaday with Baby Bison at Smithsonian

William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937) was a hunter, taxidermist, zoo director, and founder of the American conservation movement. After serving as a taxidermist at Iowa State Agricultural College and Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York, Hornaday undertook a series of...More

Wilson A. Bentley: Pioneering Photographer of Snowflakes

Wilson A. Bentley, by Unknown, 1925, courtesy of Jericho Historical Society

"My collection [is] far superior in both number & beauty & I might add interest, to that of any other collection in the world...," Wilson A. Bentley.For over forty years, Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley (1865–1931) photographed thousands of individual snowflakes and perfected the innovative...More