These records document the history of the Smithsonian from 1872-1927. Most of the records concern the tenure of Samuel P. Langley, the third Secretary, who served from 1887-1906. There is also some material dating from as early as 1866 to as late as 1927 in the collection. This record unit is the last to be based on a distinction between incoming and outgoing records, for, beginning in 1907, unified filing systems were employed. Users should therefore be careful to consult the Archives' collections in order to have access to parallel outgoing records series. Users should also consult the collections to identify important separate record units for the United States National Museum. The records document both the Institution's history and the personal research interests of Secretary Langley.
In addition to Langley's research, records of particular interest document the creation of the Astrophysical Observatory and the National Zoological Park, as well as the consolidation of the Bureau of American Ethnology within the Smithsonian after the death of John Wesley Powell.
Even before Joseph Henry's death, the Smithsonian had taken on a double identity. On the one hand it exercised the usual powers associated with a private body. At the same time it acted as a sort of agent to accomplish various objectives for the federal government. This duality of function was elaborately preserved under the administration of Samuel P. Langley, the Smithsonian's third Secretary. During his tenure (1887-1906) the Bureau of American Ethnology, the National Gallery of Art (now the National Museum of American Art), and the National Zoological Park were all added to the Smithsonian's federal side. Langley created the Astrophysical Observatory, using endowment income and private gifts. It, too, began to receive federal funds before he died in 1906. These records illustrate the peculiar but powerful role which the Smithsonian's Secretary played in forming national scientific policy at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary, Correspondence
Smithsonian Institution Archives
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