Spencer Baird Becomes Head of U.S. National Museum, January 1, 1872, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry issues a memo stating "the Assistant Secretary shall have special charge of the collections of the Institution, and of the National Museum, and shall direct the operations connected with them subject to the approval of the Secretary." One of the foremost naturalists in the United States, Baird would devote his career to the creation of a great national museum at the Smithsonian. Baird would succeed Henry as Secretary of the Smithsonian after Henry's death in 1878..