Secretaries of the Smithsonian

The Secretary of the Smithsonian is its chief executive officer.  Read about the twelve individuals who have led the Institution since 1846.

Joseph Henry, 1797-1878

Joseph Henry Portrait, by Ulke, Henry, 1879, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 10191or AI-10191.

Joseph Henry, a physicist and professor at the College of New Jersey, served as the first Secretary from 1846 to 1878. Henry formulated a Programme of Organization for the Institution; oversaw construction of the Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle; developed scientific research laboratories; initiated a publication series; and eliminated the National Library from the Smithsonian.More

Spencer Fullerton Baird, 1823-1887

Portrait of Spencer Fullerton Baird

Spencer Fullerton Baird, an ornithologist, served as the second Secretary from 1878 to 1887. In 1850, he was appointed Assistant Secretary in charge of the US National Museum, devoting his career to making it a great national museum. He established the Bureau of American Ethnology and laid groundwork for the National Zoological Park.More

Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1834-1906

Secretary Samuel P. Langley, by Dinst, Chine, c. 1905, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3220.

Samuel Pierpont Langley, an astrophysicist, served as the third Secretary from 1887 to 1906. He founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, attempted (unsuccessfully) to create the first flying machine, developed the Institution’s art collections, created the Children’s Room exhibition, and accepted Charles Lang Freer’s gift of his Asian and American art collection.More

Charles Doolittle Walcott, 1850-1927

Secretary Charles D. Walcott

Charles Doolittle Walcott, a paleontologist, served as the fourth Secretary from 1907 to 1927. Known for his discovery of the Burgess Shale fossil formations, Walcott also served as director of the US Geological Survey. He oversaw construction of the new US National Museum and launched the first Smithsonian capital campaign.More

Charles Greeley Abbot, 1872-1973

Dr. Charles G. Abbot with Book, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 42563 or MAH-42563.

Charles Greeley Abbot, an astrophysicist, served as the fifth Secretary from 1928 to 1944. He previously served as Assistant Secretary and Astrophysical Observatory director from 1895 to 1928. As Secretary, he saw the Institution through the Great Depression and World War II and was the first Secretary to retire, rather than die, in office.More

Alexander Wetmore, 1886-1978

Alexander Wetmore, Sixth SI Secretary

Alexander Wetmore, an ornithologist, served as the sixth Secretary from 1945 to 1954. He had previously served as Assistant Secretary in charge of the US National Museum since 1925. He oversaw creation of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and an Exhibits Modernization Program that revitalized the Institution.More

Leonard Carmichael, 1898-1973

Leonard Carmichael, 7th SI Secretary

Leonard Carmichael, an experimental psychologist, served as the seventh Secretary from 1953 to 1964. Previously president of Tufts University, Carmichael was the first "outsider" Secretary. He arranged for research collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Harvard University, and the Observatory’s subsequent move to Cambridge Massachusetts; and secured funding for the National Museum of American History, and authorization for the National Portrait Gallery.More

S. Dillon Ripley, 1913-2001

S. Dillon Ripley Standing in Parlor

S. Dillon Ripley, an ornithologist, served as the eighth Secretary from 1964 to 1984. Ripley oversaw explosive growth in all aspects of the Institution, including eight new museums and five new research institutes. He launched the Smithsonian Associates, Smithsonian magazine, the Folklife Festival, and the first Smithsonian television series.More

Robert McCormick Adams, 1926-

Secretary Robert McCormick Adams

Robert McCormick Adams, an archaeologist, served as the ninth Secretary from 1984 to 1994. Previously a professor at the University of Chicago and director of the Oriental Institute, he oversaw the establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian and National Postal Museum, and emphasized diversity programs at the Institution.More

I. Michael Heyman, 1930-2011

I. Michael Heyman, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1994, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-10188-19.

I. Michael Heyman, a law professor, served as the tenth Secretary from 1994 to 2000. Previously he had been chancellor of University of California at Berkeley and a Smithsonian regent. He led the Institution through the Enola Gay exhibit controversy, presided over the Institution’s 150th anniversary celebration, and developed the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.More

Lawrence M. Small, 1941-

Secretary Small

Lawrence M. Small, a businessman, served as the eleventh Secretary from 2000 to 2007. He was previously president of Fannie Mae, and as Secretary oversaw the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, as well as the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.More

G. Wayne Clough, 1941-

G. Wayne Clough

G. Wayne Clough, a structural engineer, was appointed the twelfth Secretary in 2008. Previously president of Georgia Institute of Technology, Clough oversaw the restructuring of Smithsonian policies and procedures, developed new educational initiatives, and formulated a new strategic plan for the Smithsonian of the 21st century.More

Dr. David Skorton, 1949-

Dr. David Skorton, 13th Smithsonian Secretary

Dr. David Skorton, a board-certified cardiologist, was appointed the thirteenth Secretary in 2014 and assumed his position on July 1, 2015. Previously, Dr. Skorton was President of Cornell University, professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College, and in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. More