The history of the office of Assistant Secretary can be traced to January 26, 1847 when the Smithsonian Board of Regents approved the nomination of Charles C. Jewett, of Brown University, for the position of Assistant Secretary, acting as Librarian. On July 5, 1850 the Board resolved ". . . that the Secretary be authorized to appoint an assistant secretary in the department of natural history, to take charge of the museum, and to render such other assistance as the Secretary may require . . ." Shortly thereafter, Spencer F. Baird was appointed to the position. During various periods of time, the Assistant Secretary was also in charge of publications, exchanges, and other areas.
George Brown Goode's (1851-1896) association with the Smithsonian Institution began in 1872 when Spencer F. Baird invited him to work as a volunteer collector for the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Goode accepted and became Baird's chief pupil and assistant. In 1873, he was appointed Assistant Curator in the United States National Museum (USNM), a position he retained until 1877 when his title was changed to Curator. In 1881, when the new museum building was completed and the USNM really organized, Goode was appointed Assistant Director. In that year he prepared his famous Circular No. 1 of the National Museum, which proposed a comprehensive scheme of administration for the museum. On January 12, 1887, Goode was appointed Assistant Secretary, in charge of the National Museum and until his death in 1896 he remained the head administrative officer of the museum. After receiving appointment in the USNM, Goode continued to serve the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries (USCFF) in various capacities. He acted as statistical expert for the Halifax Fishery Arbitration Commission, 1877-1878; chief of the Fisheries Division of the Tenth Census, 1879-1880; and U. S. Commissioner at the Fishery Exhibition in Berlin, 1880 and in London, 1883. On the death of Spencer F. Baird in 1887, Goode assumed the position of Fish Commissioner until January, 1888.