United States National Museum

Variant names

Hide Profile

The Act of Congress of August 10, 1846, establishing the Smithsonian Institution, empowered the Board of Regents to receive, either through donations or exchanges, new specimens for the museum of the Institution. In addition, the Secretary was authorized to discharge the duties of the "keeper of the museum." Beginning in 1841, the museum collections of the United States government had been stored in the Patent Office. Originally they were under the custodianship of the National Institution for the Promotion of Science (renamed the National Institute in 1842), which had designs on the Smithson bequest and hopes of establishing a national museum. Later, as the National Institute fell from favor with Congress, the collections were placed under the charge of the Commissioner of Patents.

By the late 1840s, the Smithsonian began collecting natural history specimens and started building up a museum collection of specimens for study. When Spencer F. Baird was appointed Assistant Secretary in 1850, he brought his own sizable natural history collection to Washington and donated it to the Institution. Throughout the 1850s the Smithsonian museum continued to grow, partly as a result of private donations and partly as a result of specimens collected by government exploring expeditions and deposited in the Institution.

In the mid-1850s, the Commissioner of Patents began agitating for the removal of the national collections from the Patent Office. In 1857, Joseph Henry agreed to take the collections on the condition that the federal government pay for the construction of cases to house them, for their removal to the Institution, and for their care. Congress agreed, and in that year appropriated $15,000 for the construction of cases and $2,000 for the removal of the collections. On June 2, 1857 an appropriation of $4,000 "for the preservation of the collection of the exploring and surveying expeditions of the Government," had been made as a contingent expense in the budget of the Secretary of the Interior. The $4,000 continued as an appropriation in Interior after 1857, with the money expended by the Smithsonian. The collections were installed in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Building in July 1858.

In 1870, the government appropriated $10,000 for the care of the Smithsonian collections.... an appropriation made to the Institution. In Henry's announcement of the appropriation the term National Museum was used for the first time in an annual report of the Smithsonian. Materials received from the 1876 Centennial Exposition increased the collections substantially, and in 1879 Congress appropriated $250,000 for a fireproof building for the use of the National Museum.

The 1870s marked the beginning of the formal organization of the United States National Museum (USNM). G. Brown Goode, who was appointed Assistant Curator in 1873, began hiring staff and appointing Honorary Curators (generally scientists attached to other government agencies who served without remuneration) to care for the national collections. In 1881, Goode (now promoted to Assistant Director) issued Circular No. 1 of the National Museum which set forth a comprehensive scheme of organization for the museum and established curatorial departments responsible for the collections.

In 1897, a major reorganization occurred in the USNM. At that time, three new departments--Anthropology, Biology, and Geology--were created to oversee the work of the museum. Former USNM departments became divisions of the new departments. This scheme of organization remained fairly constant for the next 60 years. In 1919, the Department of Arts and Industries (after 1938, the Department of Engineering and Industries) was established and assumed responsibility for collections related to mechanical technology, mineral technology, textiles, medical sciences, graphic arts, and photography. The Department of Biology was separated into Departments of Zoology and Botany in 1947, and in 1948, an independent Department of History was established.

In 1957, two administrative subdivisions were created under the direction of the USNM: the Museum of Natural History (the former USNM Departments of Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology) and the Museum of History and Technology (the former USNM Departments of Engineering and Industries and History). By 1967, the USNM as an administrative entity ceased to exist, and the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of History and Technology became separate administrative units.

Spencer F. Baird was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1850, with primary responsibility for the direction of the National Museum. The title "Assistant Secretary" was not reserved for the administrator of the museum; and throughout the history of the Institution there have been officials known as Assistant Secretaries who had other duties. During the 1940s the title, Assistant Secretary was permanently attached to other duties, and the responsibility for the museum fell to an official known as Director, United States National Museum.

Incumbents included Spencer F. Baird, 1850-1881; G. Brown Goode, 1881-1896, including the years 1881-1887 when he served as Assistant Director of the Museum without the title of Assistant Secretary; Charles D. Walcott, Acting Assistant Secretary, 1897-1898; Richard Rathbun, 1897-1918; William de Chastignier Ravenel, 1918-1925, with the title Administrative Assistant to the Secretary, in charge of the USNM; Alexander Wetmore, 1925-1948; Remington Kellogg, Director, USNM, 1948-1962; and Frank A. Taylor, Director, USNM, 1962-1967.

In 1931, the position of Associate Director, USNM, was established to assume many of the administrative and budgetary responsibilities of the Museum. John Enos Graf was appointed to the post. When Graf was promoted to Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1945, the position of Associate Director, USNM, was not continued.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 217957

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf United States National Museum annual report collection, 1881-1964 [microform] Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Schumacher, Paul. Some articles found in ancient graves of California, 1875. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Vaughan, Thomas Wayland, 1870-1952. Papers, 1901-1951. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
creatorOf Bent, Arthur Cleveland, 1866-1954. Arthur Cleveland Bent ornithological papers, 1880-1942. University of Massachusetts Amherst, W.E.B. Du Bois Library
referencedIn Oberholser, Harry C. (Harry Church), 1870-1963. Papers of Harry C. Oberholser, 1883-1960 (bulk 1920-1945). Library of Congress
creatorOf Seibels family. Seibels family papers, 1780-1960. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Arthur Cleveland Bent Papers MS 413., 1880-1942 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
referencedIn J. Percy Moore papers, 1847-1963 Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
creatorOf Bushnell, David I. (David Ives), 1875-1941. [Bushnell, David Ives, Jr., 1875-1941 collection records, 1845-1951]. Harvard University, Tozzer Library
referencedIn Merrill, George P. (George Perkins), 1854-1929. Papers, 1837-1931, bulk 1891-1920. Raymond H. Fogler Library
referencedIn Lucas, Frederic A. (Frederic Augustus), 1852-1929. Frederic Augustus Lucas papers 1883-1927. New York Botanical Garden, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
referencedIn Rathbun, Richard 1852-1918. Richard Rathbun papers, 1852-1918. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Townsend, Carlos Haskins. [Viaje del Albatross] California state library
referencedIn George G. Heye autograph collection, 1886-1928 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn George G. Heye autograph collection, 1886-1928 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Schumacher, Paul. Oregon antiquities : San Francisco : ms., 1873. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. Loans and exchanges, 1896-[ca. 1940], 1896-1930 (bulk). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIj, 1898-1988 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Benjamin, Marcus, 1857-1932. Correspondence with Edgar Fahs Smith, 1918-1927. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Wallace, Alexander Doniphan, 1905-. Papers relating to a cannon lost from the British sloop Otter [manuscript], 1927-1935. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf United States National Museum. Outline of a scheme of museum-classification, Washington, D.C., National Museum, 1882. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn Bourke, John Gregory, 1846-1896. John Gregory Bourke letters to Otis T. Mason, 1888-1896. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf United States National Museum. Correspondence with Edgar Fahs Smith, 1921. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Office of the Secretary (Alexander Wetmore, Leonard Carmichael), 1949-1964 Records. Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Lucas, Frederic A. (Frederic Augustus), 1852-1929. Frederic Augustus Lucas papers, 1883-1927. New York State Historical Documents (Albany, N.Y.)
referencedIn Harry C. OberholserPapers, 1883-1960, (bulk 1920-1945) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Locke, L. Leland (Leslie Leland), b. 1875,. Leslie Leland Locke scrapbooks, 1873-1939. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn R. Guastavino Company. National Museum, Washington, D.C. [graphic] : [detail drawings of auditorium and dome] / R. Guastavino Co. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Audubon, John James, 1785-1851. Three letters regarding Audubon's painting, American ruffed grouse 1931. Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Chemical Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Audubon, John James, 1785-1851. person
associatedWith Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887 person
associatedWith Benjamin, Marcus, 1857-1932. person
associatedWith Bent, Arthur Cleveland, 1866-1954 person
associatedWith Botanical Expedition to British Guiana (1919-1920) corporateBody
associatedWith Bourke, John Gregory, 1846-1896. person
associatedWith Bushnell, David I. (David Ives), 1875-1941. person
associatedWith Cleveland Museum of Natural History corporateBody
associatedWith Collins-Garner Congo Expedition in the Interests of the Smithsonian Institution (1916-1919) corporateBody
associatedWith Effie M. Morrissey (Schooner) corporateBody
associatedWith George G.(George Gustav), Heye 1874-1957. person
associatedWith Goode, G. Brown 1851-1896 person
associatedWith Graf, John Enos. person
associatedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Heye, George G. (George Gustav), 1874-1957. person
associatedWith Kellogg, Remington, 1893- person
associatedWith Locke, L. Leland (Leslie Leland), b. 1875, person
associatedWith Lucas, Frederic A. (Frederic Augustus), 1852-1929. person
associatedWith Merrill, George P. (George Perkins), 1854-1929. person
associatedWith Moore, J. Percy, 1869-1965 person
associatedWith National Air and Space Museum (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith National Air and Space Museum (U.S.). Office of the Director. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of American History (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of American History (U.S.). Office of the Director. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Dept. of Botany corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Dept. of Entomology. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Birds corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Echinoderms and Lower Invertebrates. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Fishes. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Grasses. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Hemiptera. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Lepidoptera. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Mammals. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Mollusks corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Reptiles and Amphibians corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Vertebrate Paleontology. corporateBody
associatedWith National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Office of Exhibits. corporateBody
correspondedWith Oberholser, Harry C. (Harry Church), 1870-1963. person
associatedWith Rathbun, Richard 1852-1918. person
associatedWith Ravenel, William de Chastignier. person
associatedWith R. Guastavino Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Schumacher, Paul. person
associatedWith Seibels family. family
associatedWith Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. corporateBody
associatedWith Smithsonian-Universal Film Manufacturing Company African Expedition (1919-1920) corporateBody
associatedWith Taylor, Frank A. 1903- person
associatedWith Thomas Talbot Waterman Observations Among the Ancient Indian Monuments of Southeast Alaska (1922) corporateBody
associatedWith Vaughan, Thomas Wayland, 1870-1952. person
associatedWith Walcott, Charles D. 1850-1927 person
associatedWith Wallace, Alexander Doniphan, 1905- person
associatedWith Wetmore, Alexander, 1886-1978 person
associatedWith William Louis Abbott Botanical Explorations of Haiti (1919-1920) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
District of Columbia DC US
Subject
Museums
Classification
Occupation
Activity
Museums

Corporate Body

Establishment 1850

Disestablishment 1967

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6nq2tfg

Ark ID: w6nq2tfg

SNAC ID: 83618225