Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887

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Spencer Fullerton Baird was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1823 and graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1840. The next year Baird made an ornithological excursion through the mountains of Pennsylvania, walking (says one of his biographers) 400 miles in 21 days. While still in college Baird met noted naturalist John James Audubon, who gave part of his own collection of birds to the young man and inspired in him a lifelong interest in ornithological studies.

Baird became professor of natural history at Dickinson College in 1845; he was also chair of the chemistry department and taught physiology and mathematics. In 1850 he was appointed assistant-secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., where he encouraged the work of the young naturalists in the Megatherium Club. On the death of Joseph Henry in 1878 he became secretary of the Institution, and from 1871 until his death he was also U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries.

Baird's studies and publication topics include iconography, geology, mineralogy, botany, anthropology, general zoology, and, in particular, ornithology. For several years he edited an annual volume summarizing progress in all scientific lines of investigation, and between 1850 and 1860 he supervised a number of government scientific explorations of the western territories of the United States, preparing for them a manual of Instructions to Collectors.

According to a bibliography by George Brown Goode, from 1843 to 1882 Baird published over a thousand pieces of writing, 775 of them being short articles in his Annual Record . Among the most significant works were his Catalog of North American Reptiles (1853, with Charles Frederic Girard); Birds (1858); Mammals of North America: Descriptions based on Collections in the Smithsonian Institution (Philadelphia, 1859); and the impressive History of North American Birds (Boston, 1875-1884; 5 vols, with Thomas Mayo Brewer and Robert Ridgway).

Baird died in 1887 at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, an institution which was largely the result of his own efforts and which continues to play an important role in ochthyology today.

[Portions of this biographical sketch adapted from "Spencer Fullerton Baird" Wikipedia article.]

From the guide to the Spencer Fullerton Baird Collection, 1858-1882, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

At only 27, the ornithologist Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887) was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, a precocious appointment that suited a precocious scientist. Born into a well to do family in Reading, Pa., and raised in Carlisle, Baird acquired an interest in natural history even prior to enrolling at Dickinson College at age 13. Although he was not an outstanding student, he was unusually committed to his course in life, keeping meticulous notes of naturalizing expeditions, collecting specimens of birds and animals, and teaching himself preservation techniques by the age of 16.

Baird's primary interest rapidly settled on ornithology, and by 17 he had initiated a correspondence with the best known ornithologist in America, John James Audubon. After graduating from Dickinson, Baird entered medical school at his family's insistence, a practical decision to ensure his future employment, but he soon dropped out and settled into a quiet life of private study at home, focusing, of course, on natural history, roaming widely over the countryside, often with his brother William, and amassing a huge collection of bird specimens. Having sent Audubon a new species of yellow-bellied flycatcher, Audubon, in return, sent the majority of his personal collection of birds to Baird and also named a species of bunting after him. Baird used this period, too, to further his contacts in the field, arranging meetings with Louis Agassiz, Asa Gray, John Cassin, and Thomas M. Brewer, and working for James Dwight Dana in identifying the crustacean collected on the Charles Wilkes expedition. His persistence paid off in the fall of 1846 (the year he married) when he earned an appointment as Professor of Natural History and Curator of the Museum at his alma mater, while still barely older than the students he was teaching.

In 1850, Baird was recruited to become Assistant Secretary at the new Smithsonian Institution, brought in by Dana (who had become one of its Regents) and seconded by his old correspondents, Audubon, Agassiz, and George Perkins Marsh. It took two boxcars to transport his collections of birds and mammals, pickled reptiles and fish to Washington, but the collections he brought were only one of the several benefits he brought to the institution. Baird's family connections served the institution materially. A Biddle on his mother's side, Baird had married the daughter of the Inspector General of the Army, which gave his a perfect entree to the military, enabling him to solicit specimens from officers stationed in the west, but more importantly to attach naturalists to Army exploring expeditions. Through his connections with the military, Baird added over 6,000 specimens to the Smithsonian collections. During his time at the Smithsonian, the collections increased from approximately 6,000 specimens to over 2.5 million. Baird was promoted from Assistant Secretary to Secretary in May 1878, continuing in that capacity until his death on August 17, 1887. He also served without salary as head of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries from its founding in 1871 until his death, and helped establish the Marine Biological Station at Woods Hole, Mass.

A remarkably prolific scientist, even by the standards of the day, Baird's list of publications extends to almost 1,100 titles on a wide range of subjects. Although most of these are relatively brief notices, he completed three monumental works, The Mammals of North America (Philadelphia, 1859), Birds of North America (Philadelphia, 1860), written with John Cassin; and the History of North American Birds (Boston, 1874-1884), 5 vols., with Brewer and Robert Ridgway. Baird was elected to the APS in 1855.

From the guide to the Spencer Fullerton Baird Collection, 1869-1874, 1869-1874, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Gray, John Edward, 1800-1875. Papers, 1783-1884. American Philosophical Society Library
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creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Spencer Fullerton Baird letters, 1852, 1881. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Aaron Young papers, [ca. 1839-1894], Circa 1839-1894 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution correspondence [microform], 18uu. Kansas State Historical Society
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referencedIn Boas-Rukeyser Collection, 1869-1940 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Audubon, John James, 1785-1851. Letters received, 1831-1853. Buffalo History Museum, Research Library
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referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
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referencedIn Rufus Wilmot Griswold Collection, 1841-1846 University of Virginia. Library. Special Collections Dept.
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creatorOf Kennicott, Robert, 1835-1866. Papers, 1853-1882. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
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referencedIn Charles M.(Charles Moore) Wheatley papers, 1840-1882, 1840-1882 American Philosophical Society
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creatorOf Marsh, George P. (George Perkins), 1801-1882. Papers, 1812-1929. University of Vermont, Bailey/Howe Library
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referencedIn John Edward Gray papers, 1783-1884, 1783-1884 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Darlington, William, 1782-1863. Papers, 1788, [ca. 1800]-1863. Churchill County Museum
creatorOf Spencer Fullerton Baird Collection, 1858-1882 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn John Wesley Powell correspondence, 1869-1879, of the Powell Survey, 1869-1879 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Samuel George Morton papers, 1838-1844, 1838-1844 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Mason, J. M. (James Murray), 1798-1871. Papers relating to James D. Graham's biological collections, 1853 January. Library of Virginia
creatorOf Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of International Exchanges. Correspondence with Henry Charles Lea, 1870-1896. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
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creatorOf Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922. W. H. Hudson papers, 1865-1921, 1933-43. University of Michigan
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referencedIn Richard Henry Pratt papers, 1862-1956 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Kollock, Cornelius, 1824-1897. Cornelius Kollock papers, 1845-1926; (bulk, 1853-1897). University of South Carolina, University Libraries
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Collection, 1839-1916, bulk dates 1839-1886. Dickinson College Library, Waidner-Spahr Library
referencedIn Meigs, Montgomery C. (Montgomery Cunningham), 1816-1892. Montgomery C. Meigs papers, 1799-1971 (bulk 1849-1892). Library of Congress
creatorOf Bushnell, David I. (David Ives), 1875-1941. [Bushnell, David Ives, Jr., 1875-1941 collection records, 1845-1951]. Harvard University, Tozzer Library
referencedIn Kennicott, Robert, 1835-1866. Robert Kennicott and family papers, 1852-1975 (bulk 1852-1866). Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn English Scientific Autograph Collection, [ca. 19th century]. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Rathbun, Richard 1852-1918. Richard Rathbun papers, 1852-1918. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Rogers, William Barton, 1804-1882. Letters to Spencer F. Baird, regarding professional articles and meetings [manuscript] 1850-1853. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn John James Audubon papers, 1813-1880 (inclusive), 1828-1855 (bulk). Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Audubon, John James, 1785-1851. Morris Tyler family collection of John James Audubon, 1697-1982 (bulk 1820-1855). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn J. D. Graham papers, 1804-1896, 1848-1865 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Dana, James Dwight, 1813-1895. Selected letters of James Dwight Dana, 1836-1894 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Lawrence, George Newbold, 1806-1895. George N. Lawrence collection of ornithological correspondence, 1865-1894. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Letter, 1883. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Evarts family papers, 1753-1960, 1798-1901 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Blatchford family papers - additions, 1841-1947, bulk 1870-1914. Newberry Library
referencedIn William Hemsley Emory papers, 1823-1886 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Brush, George Jarvis, 1831-1912. George Jarvis Brush family papers, 1834-1960 (inclusive), 1834-1939 (bulk). Yale University Library
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Catalogue North American mammals with drawings and proof of plates / [S.F.] Baird. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Suckley, George, 1830-1869. Papers of George Suckley, 1846-1886. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn William Darlington letters, 1836-1857, 1836-1857 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIf, 1866-1886 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry records, 1842-1994. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Brush, George Jarvis, 1831-1912. George Jarvis Brush family papers, 1834-1960 (inclusive), 1834-1939 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Lesley, J. P. (J. Peter), 1819-1903. Papers, 1826-1898. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Lacombe, Albert, 1827-1916. Letters, 1872-1886. Newberry Library
creatorOf Correspondence, 1824-1855, from American scientists, 1824-1855 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Alexander G. Ruthven Papers, 1901-1961, 1906-1951 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Alexander Winchell Papers, 1833-1891 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Slifer, Eli, 1818-1888. Papers, 1850-1891. Dickinson College Library, Waidner-Spahr Library
creatorOf Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922. Papers, 1865-1921, 1933-43. University of Michigan
referencedIn Louis Agassiz correspondence and other papers, 1821-1877. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Graham, J. D. (James Duncan), 1799-1865. J.D. Graham papers, 1804-1896 (bulk 1848-1865). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Stauffer, Jacob, 1808-1880. Correspondence, 1844-1879. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Morton, Samuel George, 1799-1851. Papers, 1838-1844. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn John Melmoth Dow papers, 1798-1918. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Joseph Meredith Toner Collection of Manuscripts, 1741-1896 Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
referencedIn Emory, William H. (William Hemsley), 1811-1887. William Hemsley Emory papers, 1823-1886. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. A history of North American birds proof copy, 1874 / by S.F. Baird, T.M. Brewer, and R. Ridgway. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Klippart, John H. (John Hancock), 1823-1878. Papers 1833-1933. Ohio History Connection, Ohio Historical Society
creatorOf Rust, Horatio Nelson, 1828-1906. Papers of Horatio Nelson Rust, 1799-1906 (bulk 1870-1906). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn J.P. Lesley Papers, 1826-1898 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919. Theodore Roosevelt letter to Elliott L. Coues, 1882 Apr. 21. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Samuel George Morton Papers, 1819-1850 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Lawrence, George N. (George Newbold), 1806-1895. Correspondence, 1847-1894 (bulk 1865-1894). American Museum of Natural History
creatorOf Spencer Fullerton Baird Collection, 1869-1874, 1869-1874 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Ridgway Family. Papers, 1850-1942. University of New Mexico, Los Alamos, UNM-Los Alamos Library
creatorOf Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887. Reptiles of the boundary : proof copy, 1859 / by Spencer F. Baird ... with notes by the naturalists of the Survey. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Powell, John Wesley, 1834-1902. Correspondence, 1869-1879, of the Powell Survey. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Haldeman, Samuel Stehman, 1812-1880. The Geo. M. Greene Collection : the following letters addressed to Prof. S.S. Haldeman, sketches, illustrations of his scientific articles, pieces of manuscript, and the original plates of Thomas Say's "North American entomology" were presented by me (Prof. Haldeman's grandson) to Geo. M. Greene in May 1920. [signed] Guy K. Haldeman. Brown University, Brown University Library
referencedIn Bonaparte, Charles Lucian, 1803-1857. Correspondence, 1824-1855, from American scientists. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Stephen Bowers correspondence, 1860-1915, 1860-1915 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Bessey, Charles E. (Charles Edwin), 1845-1915. Papers of Charles E. Bessey, 1865-1915. Library of Congress
creatorOf Spencer Fullerton Baird letters, 1852, 1881 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Argyll, George Douglas Campbell, Duke of, 1823-1900. Papers of the Grinnan and related Bryan and Tucker families of Virginia [manuscript], 1734-1935. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Bowers, Stephen, 1832-1907. Correspondence, 1860-1915. American Philosophical Society Library
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creatorOf Clarke, Frank Wigglesworth. Frank Wigglesworth Clarke Papers, 1873-1921. Smithsonian Institution Archives
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referencedIn Lawrence, George Newbold, 1806-1895. Papers, ca. 1860s-1870s. American Philosophical Society Library
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Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
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associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864. person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, Jr., 1816-1885 person
associatedWith Slifer, Eli, 1818-1888. person
correspondedWith Smithsonian Institution. corporateBody
associatedWith Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of International Exchanges. corporateBody
associatedWith Smithsonian institution. Museum of Natural History. corporateBody
associatedWith Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary corporateBody
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stauffer, Jacob, 1808-1880. person
associatedWith Stauffer, Jacob, b. 1808 person
associatedWith Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909 person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
associatedWith Storer, David Humphreys. person
associatedWith Storer, Horatio Robinson, 1830-1922. person
associatedWith Suckley, George, 1830-1869. person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
correspondedWith Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874 person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862. person
associatedWith Toner, Joseph M. (Joseph Meredith), 1825-1896. person
associatedWith Torrey, John, 1796-1873. person
correspondedWith Trowbridge, J. T. (John Townsend), 1827-1916 person
associatedWith United States National Museum. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. War Dept. corporateBody
associatedWith Vail, Isaac N., (Isaac Newton), 1840-1912 person
associatedWith Van Rensselaer, Jeremiah, 1740-1810 person
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
associatedWith Welch, Bigelow, and Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Welch, Bigelow & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Wheatley, Charles Moore, 1822-1882. person
associatedWith Whitney, J. D. (Josiah Dwight), 1819-1896. person
associatedWith Whitney, William Dwight, 1827-1894. person
associatedWith Winchell, Alexander, 1824-1891 person
correspondedWith Winslow family family
associatedWith Wright, Albert A. (Albert Allen), 1846-1905. person
associatedWith Young, Aaron, 1819-1898. person
associatedWith Young, Aaron, b. 1819 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Mexico 00 MX
United States 00 US
Reading PA US
California CA US
Subject
Zoology
Natural history museums, United States
Reptiles
Natural history--pictorial works
Reptiles--Pictorial works
Natural history--Study and teaching
Science and medicine
Zoology, Arctic regions
Zoological museums, United States
Indians of North America--California--Antiquities
Fossils--Collection and preservation--California
Printers--Massachusetts
Ornithology
Zoological specimens--Collection and preservation
Arctic regions--Discovery and exploration
Mammals--Pictorial works
Zoological specimens
Life science publishing
Birds--Research
Zoologists--United States
Birds
Occupation
Zoologists
Naturalist
Naturalists--United States
Scientists
Function

Person

Birth 1823-02-03

Death 1887-08-19

Male

Americans

English

Information

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Ark ID: w6z13z5t

SNAC ID: 83624352