This Day in SI History


August 1, 1848

The chemical and physical apparatus of Dr. Robert Hare of the University of Pennsylvania is presented by him to the Smithsonian Institution. They are placed on display in the Smithsonian Castle. Secretary Joseph Henry hopes the gift will set a precedent for other potential donors and sees it as supportive of his plan for the Institution.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Under Construction

August 2, 1993

President William Jefferson Clinton signs legislation establishing an extension for the National Air and Space Museum near Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, now known as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Harriet Lane Johnston Collection

August 3, 1906

The Harriet Lane Johnston collection is delivered to the Smithsonian Institution as the beginnings of a National Gallery of Art under the Institution's aegis. The collection consists of 31 pieces comprised of several interesting historical objects as well as works of art.  The collection forms the basis for what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Joan Mondale Greeting Joseph Hirshhorn

August 4, 1978

The Hirshhorn Museum announces major commission by the Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel, Inc., for the creation of a monumental outdoor sculpture by American artist Mark Di Suvero, with installation on the plaza and dedication ceremonies planned for summer, 1978.

"King and Queen" Transported from the Hirshhorn Home

August 5, 1974

Beginning August 5, Joseph Hirshhorn's sculpture collection is moved from his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, to the new Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Many of the pieces were brought to the Garden via helicopter, including Rodin's "Burghers of Calais" and "Balzac," as well as Henry Moore's "Glenkiln Cross," each of which weighs several thousand pounds. The move of the collection was paid for entirely by Hirshhorn.

Cyrus Adler Sitting

August 6, 1897

Cyrus B. Adler, Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, writes The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, which presents background information, including pertinent correspondence, to trace the evolution of the first international catalogue of scientific literature ever produced.  He begins by commenting that the International Bibliographical Conference, held in London, England, during July 14-17, 1896, was the most important step ever taken toward international cooperation in scientific and bibliographical work.

Unloading Part of Hirshhorn Bequest, by Unknown, 1986, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 97-9609.

August 7, 1986

Selections from the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest opens at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The exhibition, which features about 80 paintings and sculptures and 70 works on paper, stems from the recent acquisition (early 1986) of over 5,000 additional artworks collected by Hirshhorn, and closes November 16.

Letter A. W. Innamorati to James Bradley, August 8, 1966, Page 1 of 1

August 8, 1966

A. W. Innamorati, Regional Director of the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration, sends a letter to James Bradley, Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, on August 8, 1966, acknowledging the transfer of the U.S. Court of Claims Building, now the Renwick Gallery, to Smithsonian custody. William Wilson Corcoran began construction of his gallery of art in 1859. The building was seized by the government in 1861 and used as a warehouse and office space for Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs during the Civil War. The building was eventually returned to Corcoran, and opened as his art gallery in 1872, but his collection outgrew the space and he built a new gallery nearby.  The building was then used as the US Court of Claims Building until 1965, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian for use as the Renwick Gallery, devoted to American crafts and decorative arts.

Guide to the Smithsonian Archives 1978

August 9, 1978

The Smithsonian Institution Archives publishes a guide to its record and manuscript holdings that will give scholars and the general public a more comprehensive introduction to the collection documenting the history of the Smithsonian.

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August 10, 1846

By a vote of 26 to 13, the U.S. Senate passes the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution which is signed into law by President James K. Polk. Among its provisions, the Organic Act specifies: a Board of Regents, Chancellor, and Secretary; a "suitable" building with rooms for the "reception and arrangement" of objects of natural history, a chemical laboratory, a library, a gallery of art, and lecture rooms; the transfer to the Institution of all objects of art, natural history, etc., belonging to the United States in Washington; and the deposit in the Smithsonian of one copy of all publications copyrighted under the acts of Congress. The act stipulates that the original legacy of $515,169, plus interest accrued at the rate of 6% on loan to the U.S. Treasury, amounting to $242,129, shall be maintained as a trust fund, and all expenditures and appropriations must come from interest accrued in this fund.

Aerial Photograph of the National Mall on August 10, 1996

August 11, 1996

The Smithsonian Institution celebrates it 150th Anniversary with a Birthday Party on the Mall on August 10-11, 1996. The festivities include 23 pavilions which stretched from 3rd Street to 14th Street and represented all the museums and several research facilities and offices; the Smithsonian 150th commemorative coin is unveiled; the new Castle tower bell is dedicated and rung for the first time; the evening of the 10th there is a concert and fireworks over the Castle and the Washington Monument.

NZP's Baby Orangutan, by Cohen, Jessie, 1980, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-1012.

August 12, 1980

A female orangutan is born to "Pensi" and "Atjeh" (also know as "Junior") at the National Zoological Park. She weighs only 2 pounds, 5 ounces and is moved to an incubator immediately.

Joan Mondale Playing Drums

August 13, 1979

The Museum of African Art, established in 1964 as a private museum at the initiative of Warren Robbins, becomes a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution. In the next year it will be renamed the National Museum of African Art.

Henry Family on the Smithsonian Grounds

August 14, 1871

On August 14, 1871, Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry commences his journey to California via the transcontinental railroad completed just two years earlier. His daughter Helen accompanies him. As chairman of the U.S. Lighthouse Board's Committee on Experiments, Henry spends most of his time in San Francisco inspecting lard oil for lamps. During the six to seven day journey from Washington to California and back, Henry and Helen stop in Council Bluffs and Omaha, Nebraska, Salt Lake City, and Chicago.

Brian Schmidt Holding an Olive-Backed Forest Robin

August 15, 2008

Scientists from the National Museum of Natural History publish their findings on a new species of bird in Zootaxa. The olive-backed forest robin or Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus, was found by Smithsonian researchers in the forests of Gabon, Africa. The bird measures 4.5 inches in length and averages 18 grams in weight when it reaches adulthood. Males have black feathers on their heads, a fiery orange  breast, yellow belly, white dot on their face in front of each eye and an olive back for which it is named. Females of the species look similar, but have a less vibrant color.

Alexander Wetmore at his Work Quarters in Argentina

August 16, 1923

Alexander Wetmore, noted ornithologist and sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1944-1952, is on expedition to Riacho Pilaga, Argentina, on August 16, 1920. Secretary Wetmore conducted extensive ornithological fieldwork throughout the islands of the Caribbean and many Latin American countries.

Curator Doug Owsley and Archaeological Dig Team Member Examine Bone at Antietam

August 17, 1988

A press conference is held in the National Museum of Natural History to announce the discovery and excavation of a previously unknown Civil War burial site at Maryland's Antietam Battlefield. The dig is coordinated by the Anthropology Department in conjunction with the National Park Service.

Cheetah from NZP

August 18, 1992

The Cheetah Conservation Station exhibition at the National Zoological Park opens. It recreates the appearance of an African savanna with bunch grasses, reproductions of termite mounds, and a water hole.

The Baird Family at Wood's Hole

August 19, 1887

Second Smithsonian Secretary Spencer F. Baird (1823-1887) dies at the age of sixty-four, at the headquarters of the United States Fish Commission at Wood's Hole, Massachusetts, on August 19, 1887.  An ornithologist, Baird was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian in charge of the United States National Museum in 1850 and succeeded the first Secretary, Joseph Henry, in 1878. Baird devoted his career to the establishment of the United States National Museum at the Smithsonian.

Coelacanth Fish, NMNH

August 20, 1957

On August 20, 1957, a coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae Smitha, or living fossil fish, is put on exhibit in the foyer of United States National Museum, now known as the National Museum of Natural History. This male fish was caught off the Comoro Islands, near the Island of Madagascar. It was believed that the coelacanth was extinct until 1938 when the first live one was caught off South Africa. Before that time the fish was only known from ancient fossil remains.

Map Tracking a Tornado

August 21, 1857

A tornado passes through the counties of Columbia, Dodge and Washington in Wisconsin on August 21, 1857.  The tornado was observed and tracked by  A. Lapham of Milwaukee, a volunteer for the Smithsonian's Meteorological Project. The Smithsonian Meteorological Project, begun by first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, uses a countrywide network of volunteer observers to record climate information and send it to the Smithsonian via the growing telegraph network.  The project existed from 1846-1870 and led to the founding of the National Weather Service.

Exterior of Renwick Gallery (19th c.)

August 22, 1861

The U.S. Army seizes the Corcoran Gallery of Art (today the Renwick Gallery) for use as a warehouse for storage of records and uniforms for the Quartermaster General (Montgomery Meigs) Corps. The building was designed by James Renwick, Jr. At the time it was seized, the exterior of the Gallery was virtually complete except for some decorative detail. The interior had not yet been floored or plastered.

Aerial View of Quadrangle

August 23, 2011

On August 23, 2011 at 1:51 PM, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Washington D.C. region. The quake, whose epicenter was in Mineral, Virginia, was felt up and down the east coast of the North America from the Carolinas to Canada. The Smithsonian Institution buildings were evacuated and staff were allowed to reenter once inspections were done. The museums on the National Mall were shut down and all non-essential staff (across the federal government) were sent home for the remainder of the afternoon. In the aftermath of the earthquake, collections around the Smithsonian were deemed to be intact and secure. However, the Smithsonian Building or "Castle" and the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland were closed the following day. The "Castle" completed in 1855, sustained cracks to its beams and possibly in the foundation. Plaster fell from the ceiling and other minor damages were incurred. All of the other Museum buildings and the National Zoo reopened to the public on August 24, 2011.

Helena Weiss, George B. Griffenhagen and Bane

August 24, 1956

One of the first X-ray tubes used by Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen is presented to the United States National Museum for exhibit. Roentgen in 1895 discovered a new radiation called "X-rays" or Roentgen rays.

C-3PO and R2-D2, NMAH Iconic Collections on View

August 25, 2006

The Treasures of American History are being prepared for their new exhibit. C-3PO and R2-D2, droids from the movie Star Wars, are in the center and a tapestry lies on the table. The exhibit includes iconic items from the National Museum of American History (NMAH) that will travel across the National Mall to the National Air and Space Museum while  NMAH is undergoing renovations starting September 5, 2006.

Citizen Regent Jeannine Smith Clark

August 26, 1983

Legislation appointing Jeannine Smith Clark to the Board of Regents is signed by President Ronald Reagan. Clark served as a volunteer prior to her tenure as a Regent, which lasted from 1983 to 1994. Among her many contributions to the Smithsonian, Clark chaired the Cultural Education Committee, established in 1987, to consider questions of representation of minorities and sensitivity to cultural pluralism in the Smithsonian's exhibit programs.

Mackay Emerald Necklace, by Clark, Chip, c. 2000, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, G9775_01.

August 27, 1984

A 168-carat emerald, the bequest of Anna Cast Mackay to the Smithsonian Institution National Gem Collection, is placed on permanent display in the National Museum of Natural History.

Officials from Togo Tour Anacostia Neighborhood Museum

August 28, 1974

Distinguished visitors from Togo tour the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum on August 28 with John R. Kinard, Director of the Museum, and Zora Martin, head of the educational department at ANM. The Togolese officials were interested in the role of the Smithsonian in the cultural life of the United States and Washington, particularly in seeing how the neighborhood museum works with young people displaying arts and crafts pertaining to the United States and Africa.

"The Mediator", c. 1855, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, img0039_hires.

August 29, 1838

James Smithson's legacy, in the form of British gold sovereigns packed in eleven boxes, as well as his personal effects, arrive with Richard Rush on the ship "Mediator" in the harbor of New York. The personal effects are deposited with the collector of the Port of New York on September 1. The gold is immediately deposited with the Bank of America, until September 1, when it is transferred to the Treasurer of the United States Mint in Philadelphia. The £104,960 and 8 shillings, 6 pence in gold sovereigns is melted down and reminted into United States coins worth $508,318.46. Smithson's personal effects remain in New York until June 1841, when the National Institute requests they be sent to Washington.

National Zoological Park Baby Elephant Jayathu Receives Pat from President Ronald Reagan

August 30, 1984

Jayathu, an Asian elephant dies, apparently suffering an allergic reaction to her infant formula. She was presented to President Ronald Reagan as a gift from J.R. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka and arrived at the National Zoological Park on June 12, 1984.

Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, SIA2011-2396.

August 31, 1974

Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, theoretical physicist, is named to the Board of Regents, succeeding Crawford H. Greenewalt, who resigned as a citizen member. Gell-Mann had served on the Smithsonian Council since 1969.