This Day in SI History

Cover of Smithsonian "Contributions to Knowledge Volume 1"

December 1, 1848

The first volume of Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge is published.  Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, comprising the results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations, by E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis, is illustrated by forty-eight lithographic plates and 207 wood engravings.  Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry decides against copyrighting this or any Smithsonian publications. The first volume of Contributions will be distributed to learned societies in approximately twenty-five foreign countries.

George Brown Goode, by Unknown, c. 1880s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-12176 and 47868.

December 2, 1887

Under provision of the law, Chancellor of the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, designates George Brown Goode as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian during the absence of the Secretary Samuel P. Langley.

Joseph Henry, First Secretary of the Smithsonian

December 3, 1846

Professor Joseph Henry of Princeton University receives seven out of twelve votes cast by the Smithsonian Board of Regents for the position of Secretary (the executive officer of the Smithsonian Institution). The Board then unanimously passes a resolution approving the election of Henry, who went on to serve a thirty-two year term from 1846 to 1878. The forty-nine year-old Henry is well known in the scientific world as a "natural philosopher" and physicist because of his basic discoveries in the field of electromagnetism.

Mohini Rewa, NZP's White Tiger

December 4, 1960

The white tigress, Mohini of Rewa, arrives at the National Zoological Park. This ice-blue eyed animal is the gift of the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation of New York and Ralph Scott of Washington, D.C. Mohini is formally presented to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the White House lawn by John Kluge, president of the Board of the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation.

Barney Studio House, Interior, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 92-3532.

December 5, 1961

The gift of the Barney House Studio (2306 Massachusetts Avenue), home of Alice Pike Barney, by Laura Dreyfus Barney is announced by Secretary Leonard Carmichael at the Smithsonian Art Commission annual meeting. Barney Studio House is an art center with a unique setting created by artist Alice Pike Barney. It is located in Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C., and is administered by the National Museum of American Art, now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Space Shuttle Enterprise at Dulles Airport

December 6, 1985

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration officially transfers the Space Shuttle Enterprise to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum at a black-tie gala at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The Shuttle will go on exhibit in the Museum’s new building, the Udvar-Hazy Center, located near the airport.

Dec 7 Charles De Gaulle, 1963, by Boris Chaliapin, National Portrait Gallery, Gift of Time magazine, NPG.78.TC328.

December 7, 1991

Time Covers the War: Personalities from World War II opens at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and includes thirty-six original portraits commissioned for covers of Time between 1938 and 1945.

Hands On History Room

December 8, 1992

The Hands on History Room opens at the National Museum of American History. The 3,000 square-foot room features more than forty hands-on historical activities for Museum visitors to participate in.

Alexander Graham Bell Bust Presentation

December 9, 1926

A bust of Alexander Graham Bell is presented to the Smithsonian Board of Regents by the American Telegraph and Telephone Company.  The bust honors Bell's significant contributions to the Institution, including his role as a Regent from 1898 to 1922, his seed money to establish the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and his trip to Italy to bring James Smithson's remains to the Institution his bequest founded.

Joyce R. Manes, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-13197.

December 10, 1974

The Executive Committee of the Smithsonian Institution approves, in principle, the establishment of an on-site learning center for the children of Smithsonian staff. Joyce R. Manes, Learning Center Coordinator, takes responsibility for developing and implementing the program. The center will later be named the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center.

Qian Sanqiang at the Smithsonian Institution Building

December 11, 1980

The Academy of Sciences of the People's Republic of China (Academia Sinica) and the Smithsonian Institution sign an agreement to foster joint research and other exchanges. Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley and Academy Vice President Qian Sanqiang sign the agreement.

Benjamin Tappan, by Unknown, c. 1840s?, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-32256.

December 12, 1844

Senator Benjamin Tappan of Ohio introduces S. 18, a bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution. It emphasizes the useful sciences of natural history, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and especially agricultural experiments. It provides for the creation of professorships and lecturers, whose duties feature the productive and liberal arts, especially improvements in agriculture, horticulture, and rural economy.  Final legislation is not passed until August 10, 1846.

Dec 13 Programme of Organization

December 13, 1847

The Board of Regents adopts Secretary Joseph Henry's Programme of Organization of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry's plan contains fourteen guiding considerations, including the suggestion that the Smithsonian only undertake programs that cannot be adequately carried out by existing United States institutions. A key feature of the plan is the publication of Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge and periodical reports on scientific progress.

Mother Elephant Shanthi and her Baby Kumari

December 14, 1993

Kumari, an Asian elephant, is born to Shanthi at the National Zoological Park. She is the first elephant to be born at the Zoo. Kumari later dies on April 26, 1995. Research uncovers a herpes virus as the cause of death. This research is used to save the lives of young elephants born in other zoos.

"Statue of Freedom" in A&I Rotunda

December 15, 1890

The Statue of Freedom, the plaster figure used to cast the statue atop of the U.S. Capitol, is given to the Smithsonian Institution and placed in the Rotunda of the U.S. National Museum, known now as the Arts and Industries Building. The statue, designed by sculptor Thomas Crawford in Rome, first came to Washington, D.C., in 1858, and was placed in the old hall of the House of Representatives, then in the basement of the Capitol. The statue is moved from the Rotunda in 1967.

President Bush Signs Legislation Creating the NMAAHC

December 16, 2003

Legislation (P.L. 108-184) is passed and signed by President George W. Bush creating a National Museum of African American History and Culture, as part of the Smithsonian Institution.  The new museum will be dedicated to the documentation of African American life, art, history, and culture, and will open to the public in 2015.

Star-Spangled Banner

December 17, 1912

The Star Spangled Banner is accessioned into the permanent collection of the U.S. National Museum. The flag was first loaned to the Museum on July 9, 1907, by Eben Appleton, grandson of Major George Armistead, the defender of Fort McHenry, where the flag flew during the War of 1812.  In 1912, Appleton decides to make the flag a permanent gift to the Museum.

Robert "Railroad" Harris

December 18, 1984

"Railroad" Harris, a security officer at the National Museum of American History, retires after thirty-eight years at the Smithsonian.  When he arrived at the Institution, the guard force consisted of eighty men who rotated between four buildings.  Robert Riley Harris received his nickname of "Railroad" when another security officer learned his initials were R.R. and because he was frequently stationed by the transportation exhibits.

Scott Miller

December 19, 2010

Dr. Scott Miller is named Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support, effective December 19, 2010. The position reports to the Under Secretary for Science and the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. Miller, an entomologist, previously worked at the Smithsonian from 2006 to 2010 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research, from 2004 to 2006 as associate director for science at the National Zoological Park, and from 2000 to 2006, as chairman of the Departments of Entomology and Systematic Biology at the National Museum of Natural History.

National Zoological Park's Seal Pup "Grendel"

December 20, 1980

Grendel, a thirty-five pound, thirty-six inch long gray seal pup, is born at the National Zoological Park. Grendel is one of only ten grey seal pups to have been born and survived in captivity in the United States.

Joseph Henry Portrait

December 21, 1846

Joseph Henry, physicist from Princeton University, enters upon his duties of office as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  He meets with the Board of Regents to plan the programs of the new Institution.

William Spencer Bagdatopoulos, Exhibition, 1930

December 22, 1930

An exhibition of forty-two watercolors of India by artist William Spencer Bagdatopoulos, an English painter and etcher, closes at the National Gallery of Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Quad Construction

December 23, 1981

A $960,000 Congressional appropriation is set aside for the planning of the Smithsonian’s Quadrangle project. The Quadrangle or Quad will be a new museum complex that will serve as a center for African, Near Eastern and Asian cultures. This is the first federal appropriation for the project, whose planning has been underway since 1978 with support from unrestricted trust funds.

Baird Auditorium, Natural History Building

December 24, 1949

The first Smithsonian Christmas Party is held. An aid in archaeology, Bob Jenkins, arranges for a program to be held at noon on Christmas Eve in the auditorium of the Natural History Building. Although it is initially planned only for the employees of that building, all Smithsonian staff are invited. Charles Terry, aid in archeology, reads the Christmas story and employees sing carols. Secretary Emeritus Charles G. Abbot plays a cello solo accompanied on the piano by Loyal Aldrich, retired director, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Pembroke College, Oxford University

December 25, 1895

A complete set of the publications of the Smithsonian Institution is deposited in the Library of Pembroke College, Oxford, the college from which James Smithson graduated.

Cover of Joseph Henry Paper's Vol. 11

December 26, 1972

Joseph Henry Papers exhibit opens in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Building. The exhibit contains rare books, pictorial material and original manuscripts illustrating the scientific career of the American physicist who was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian. The exhibit marks the publication by the Smithsonian of the first volume of The Papers of Joseph Henry.

Charles Lang Freer

December 27, 1904

Industrialist and art collector Charles Lang Freer drafts a formal proposal to leave the nation his collection of Asian and Impressionist art.  He promises funds to help construct a suitable building.

George Brown Goode, by Unknown, c. 1880s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 11776 or MAH-11776.

December 28, 1888

Assistant Secretary in charge of the U.S. National Museum George Brown Goode reads his seminal papers on the history of museums and museums of history to the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C.  Goode is the leading thinker on the history, role, and practices of museums.

Theodore Roosevelt, by Unknown, c. early 1900s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-32244.

December 29, 1904

President Theodore Roosevelt gives a sparrow hawk to the National Zoological Park.  Roosevelt began donating specimens to the Smithsonian when he was a young man.

Robert Hutchings Goddard with Rocket

December 30, 1919

The Smithsonian publishes Dr. Robert H. Goddard's "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" in volume 71 of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. It will become one of the fundamental works in theoretical rocketry. In 1916, Goddard, a professor at Clark College, wrote to the Smithsonian Institution, requesting funding for his research in rocketry. On January 5, 1917, upon the recommendation of Assistant Secretary Charles Abbot, Secretary Charles Walcott awarded Goddard a grant of $5000 from the Hodgkin’s Fund for his research. Goddard credited the Smithsonian with giving him the financial support he needed to bring his research and experimentation to fruition in the first modern rocket.

Buffalo Behind Smithsonian Institution Building

December 31, 1887

The Department of Living Animals opens to the public in a building on the south side of the east wing of the Smithsonian Institution Building or Castle. The department had been established to afford the taxidermists an opportunity to observe the habits and positions of various species, and use this knowledge in mounting specimens for exhibition.