This Day in SI History

S. Dillon Ripley Standing in Parlor

February 1, 1964

S. Dillon Ripley takes office as the eighth Smithsonian Secretary and serves until 1984.  Ripley, an ornithologist, had been a professor of biology at Yale University and director of its Peabody Museum of Natural History.

National Museum Building Committee, 1880

February 2, 1871

General William T. Sherman is appointed to the Smithsonian Board of Regents in the place of Richard Delafield, who resigned.  A civil engineer, Sherman helps oversee construction of the U.S. National Museum in 1878-1881.

February 3, 1853

The Board of Regents authorizes the expenditure of $1,100 to build a magnetic observatory on the Smithsonian grounds. It will consist of a small underground room, twelve by sixteen feet and an above-ground portion, constructed of wood and designed to correspond somewhat to the architecture of the Smithsonian Institution Building.

Placing statue of Murillo at RGA

February 4, 1974

Restoration of the exterior of the Renwick Gallery is completed when statues of Peter Paul Rubens and Estaban Murillo are placed in second floor niches on the outside of the renovated museum building. The sculptures are duplicates of the originals by Moses Ezekiel that occupied the niches in the late 19th century when the Renwick served as the first Corcoran Gallery of Art .

Gates to the South Yard

February 5, 1847

The Board of Regents authorizes publication of Hints on Public Architecture by Regent Robert Dale Owen, a work chiefly descriptive of the Smithsonian Institution Building.

James Zetek and Watson Perrygo

February 6, 1952

Alexander Wetmore, sixth Smithsonian Secretary and ornithologist, and Watson M. Perrygo, U.S. National Museum taxidermist, travel to Panama and visit the Canal Zone Biological Area, now the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island. There they meet with James Zetek, entomologist and resident director, while on a scientific expedition to the region.

Smithsonian 150th Anniversary Stamp

February 7, 1996

The Smithsonian 150th Anniversary stamp is issued. There is a short ceremony in Baird Auditorium unveiling the stamp and sheets of the new stamp and envelopes with first-day cancellations are available for sale in the rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History.

Second Exhibition of the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute

February 8, 1855

The Great Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Building is opened to the public, occupied by the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute fair. Secretary Joseph Henry is the president of the Institute.

Installing Kermit the Frog Puppet at LA Convention Center

February 9, 1996

The America's Smithsonian exhibition opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It is the first stop on national tour of the exhibition celebrating the Smithsonian's 150th anniversary.

Wright Brothers Receive Langley Medal

February 10, 1909

The Board of Regents awards the first Langley Medal to Wilbur and Orville Wright for their successful investigations and demonstrations of the practicability of mechanical flight by man, and it is formally presented to them on February 10, 1910.

Attendees at Conference on Future of Smithsonian Institution

February 11, 1927

A Conference on the Future of the Smithsonian Institution is convened in the Smithsonian Castle by the Smithsonian Board of Regents "to advise with reference to the future policy and field of service of the Smithsonian Institution."   William Howard Taft, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, presides, with assistance from Assistant Secretaries Charles G. Abbot and Alexander Wetmore.

Anacostia Museum Building

February 12, 1978

The Frederick Douglass Years opens at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now the Anacostia Community Museum.  The exhibition explores the life of Frederick Douglass and the times in which he lived--his years as a slave, his escape, the part he played in events leading to the Civil War, his appointment to Assistant Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry to Santo Domingo and as U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia, and as a resident of Anacostia.

Painting of the Renwick Gallery

February 13, 1874

Paintings, statuary, engravings, and books on art belonging to the Smithsonian Institution are deposited in the Corcoran Art Gallery.

Dennis Gould Checking Crates, by Unknown, c. 1974, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-2468.

February 14, 1966

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service is transferred from the National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, under whose jurisdiction it had been since 1952, to the U.S. National Museum. The scope of exhibits is expanded to include crafts, history, technology, science, and education.

Child Exhibit at National Gallery of Art

February 15, 1930

A special exhibit of portraits by Edwin Burrage Child open at the National Gallery of Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in the Natural History Building. The exhibit of thirty-six oil paintings was held from February 15 to April 6,1930.

Victor B. Elstad and William H. Klein

February 16, 1965

The Division of Radiation and Organisms becomes the Smithsonian Radiation Biology Laboratory, which has independent status within the Smithsonian Institution (separate from the Astrophysical Observatory) and whose director reports to the Secretary through the Assistant Secretary for Science. The Laboratory is headed by Dr. William H. Klein, with assistant Dr. Walter Shropshire, and is located in west end of the basement of the Smithsonian Institution Building.

Lecture Room and Catlin Exhibit, U.S. National Museum

February 17, 1847

At a meeting of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Regent William Seaton presents a letter from R. R. Gurley recommending the purchase of "Catlin's Gallery of Indians." This later becomes a popular Smithsonian collection.

Charles Doolittle Walcott, 1922, by Unknown, 1922, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3139.

February 18, 1898

The Washington Academy of Sciences is incorporated, based on a constitution drafted by Acting Assistant Secretary Charles Doolittle Walcott, who is also elected president in 1899.  Many of the Smithsonian's scientific staff become charter members of the Academy.

James Tyler and John Glenn at NASM

February 19, 1987

Senator John Glenn holds a news conference at the National Air and Space Museum for the 25th anniversary of his orbit around the Earth in the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft.

Two Baby Gorillas Moka and Nikumba

February 20, 1955

The National Zoological Park receives two baby gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). The male,  Nikumba, fifteen months, and female, Moka, twenty months, were flown from French Equatorial Africa to Europe and then to the United States. They are the first gorillas in the Zoo since 1932.

Milo C. Beach, by Unknown, 1986, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 96-1381.

February 21, 1984

Milo C. Beach, chair of the Department of Art at Williams College, is named director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, a component of the Center for African, Near Eastern, and Asian Cultures.

James Barton Longacre

February 22, 1969

The Nineteenth Century Gallery of Distinguished Americans opens at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibit focuses on The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, published between  1834 and 1839.  In 1831 James Herring, a portrait painter and promoter of the arts, persuaded the American Academy of Fine Arts to support the publication of the book. His partner in the venture was James Barton Longacre, a well-known Philadelphia engraver. Their goal to collect American portraits at the Academy for the use of artists and scholars was not realized until the 1968 opening of the National Portrait Gallery.

Unveiling of "The Federal City" Model

February 23, 1976

The Federal City: Plans and Realities, a three-dimensional look at the plans for the City of Washington, opens in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Castle.

First Smithsonian Seal

February 24, 1847

The Board of Regents authorizes the creation of a seal of the Smithsonian Institution, with a likeness of James Smithson. A bronze medallion portrait of James Smithson is copied from one attributed to Italian artist Antonio Canova. A noted manufacturer of seals, Edward Stabler, is hired to engrave the seal based on the medallion portrait and a design by Regent Robert Dale Owen.

Marvin Sadik Examines Martha Washington Portrait

February 25, 1980

An agreement is reached whereby the Smithsonian Institution purchases, jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the portraits of George and Martha Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Secretary Ripley Cutting Anniversary Cake

February 26, 1974

Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley celebrates his tenth anniversary as Secretary with a party in the Smithsonian Castle.

People Waiting to Enter NMNH to See "Dead Sea Scrolls" Exhibit

February 27, 1965

The National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, opens the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Jordan in the Foyer Gallery of the Natural History Building. The exhibition, sponsored by the Government of Jordan, ran from 27 February to 21 March, and drew approximately 209,643 visitors. The scrolls then moved to the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, where they were displayed from 3 to 25 April as part of a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibit.

Robert Dale Owen, by Unknown, c. 1840s, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-12184.

February 28, 1846

As part of the legislative effort to create the Smithsonian Institution, Robert Dale Owen, U.S. Representative from Indiana, reports a substitute for bill H. 5, which is referred to the Committee of the Whole. Provisions in this version include the establishment of a normal school branch of the institution with a professor of common-school instruction to improve quality of the common-school system, and for publications for the dissemination of information among the people, especially in agriculture, common-school instruction, and other useful knowledge.

Staff of Office of Horticulture

February 29, 1976

The Horticultural Services Division of the Office of Plant Services reorganizes and is transferred to the Office of Museum Programs as the Office of Horticulture. Although the discipline of horticulture was added to the Smithsonian Institution in 1972, it was first recognized as an official museum program in 1976 rather than as a maintenance program.  Today the program is known as Smithsonian Gardens.