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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/February 1896/The Smithsonian Institution II

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 48‎ | February 1896




IN our first article we attempted to show the circumstances which led to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, to trace its growth, and to sketch the peculiar field which it occupies. The latter, however, can well be supplemented by a succinct statement of its condition at the present time, or rather in 1895, the date of the most recent Annual Report.

Members of the Institution.—Presiding officer (ex officio), the President of the United States; Chancellor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; the Vice-President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of the Treasury; the Secretary of War; the Secretary of the Navy; the Postmaster General; the Attorney General; the Secretary of the Interior; the Secretary of Agriculture; the Secretary of the institution.

Administration.—The business of the institution is managed by a Board of Regents, composed of the Vice-President and the Chief Justice of the United States, three senators, three members of the House of Representatives, and six other eminent persons nominated by a joint resolution of Congress. The Secretary of the institution is also secretary of this board and the principal executive officer.

Buildings.—The Smithsonian Institution is housed in two buildings the Norman, castlelike structure completed in 1855, and the huge one-story museum, to be noted below. The former is occupied as follows: The east wing contains the administration offices, comprising the rooms for the regents, the secretary, the editor, and other officers. A small library of reference books (thirty thousand volumes) occupies a part of the ground floor. The main central hall is filled with valuable collections in ornithology and conchology, including the Isaac Lea cabinet of shells. Above this, another large hall is devoted to prehistoric anthropology. The west wing contains ichthyological specimens, and a very beautiful collection of Crustacea, batrachia, and ophidia. In the south porch is a small group of instruments of research.

Correspondence.—The official and casual correspondence of the Smithsonian Institution is no insignificant part of its daily life. Letters are addressed to the Secretary by the most learned scholars of Europe as well as by the humblest seeker after truth living in the wilds of North America, and all receive consideration and respectful answers. Tens of thousands of letters are annually received and acknowledged. If inquiries are made which the Secretary and his aids can not immediately answer, the letters are referred to eminent specialists outside of the institution.

The official list of correspondents, embracing learned societies and men of science throughout the world, numbers twenty-four thousand (1894). For a great many years the responsibility of the official correspondence devolved on the chief clerk, Mr. William J. Rhees, who is now keeper of the archives of the institution.

The International Exchange Service.—The Board of Regents in 1851 established a system of international exchanges of the transactions of learned societies and of certain other classes of scientific works. The exchange extends also to specimens in natural history. In 1867 Congress imposed upon the institution the duty of exchanging official documents printed by order of either House, or by the United States Government bureaus, for similar works published by foreign governments.

This international exchange is of the greatest service to learned societies on both sides of the ocean, and to individual men of. science who avail themselves of its privileges; it involves a prodigious amount of well-directed labor, as shown by the fact that in the twelve months 1893 to 1893 over one hundred tons of books were handled; these comprised 39,500 packages and 31,850 Government documents sent out, besides 101,000 packages and 5,190 Government publications received.
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United States National Museum.

Publications.—There are three distinct sets of publications issued as serials, directed by the Smithsonian Institution:

1. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, a quarto series begun in 1848, and comprising thirty-two volumes to date. In these volumes are placed the monographs, articles, and papers offering positive additions to human knowledge, either undertaken by agents of the Smithsonian Institution or by persons encouraged by. its assistance. These contributions correspond to the more elaborate memoirs of learned societies, and comprise treatises on anthropology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, electricity, ethnology, geology, mathematics, meteorology, natural history, palæontology, physics, and zoölogy, in all their ramifications.

2. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, begun in 1862, thirty-five volumes, octavo. These contain bibliographies, tables, proceedings of Washington societies, and papers on scientific topics of value to scholars, yet not forming, as a rule, positive additions to the sum of human knowledge. These papers vary in size from a leaflet of four pages to a stout volume of twelve hundred pages. The individual articles are first issued independently, each receiving a number in course, and afterward they are bound up in volumes of suitable size, which themselves also bear numbers. This plan of publication also applies to the Contributions. The editorial work of this and the preceding series was long under the care of the late Mr. William B. Taylor, whose great erudition and skill in book-making proved invaluable to the institution.

3. Annual Reports of the Board of Regents—forty-nine volumes, octavo. These are submitted to Congress, in accordance with a clause in the act of incorporation. They contain the Journal of the Proceedings of the Board of Regents, the Report of the Executive Committee, the reports of the Secretary and of the directors, curators, or managers of the important departments controlled by the institution. In these reports are exhibited the financial affairs of the institution, its condition, its operations, and statistics of every kind connected with the same. Following the official part is a General Appendix containing a selection of memoirs of interest to collaborators and correspondents of the institution, teachers, and others engaged in the promotion of knowledge. These essays are generally reprints from divers sources, but they also include original translations and occasionally contributed articles. From 1880 to 1889 this General Appendix was chiefly devoted to an Annual Record of Scientific Progress prepared by specialists.

Library.—By exchanging the publications of the institution for transactions of learned societies, and for productions of foreign scholars, as well as by purchase, a library has been gathered of enormous value, now numbering over three hundred thousand titles. As already stated, it is merged in the Library of Congress, with the exception of a small collection for the use of the officers, partly housed in the Norman building and partly in the Museum. In the magnificent library building now approaching completion on Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian will have a separate hall for its deposit.

The National Museum at first occupied the larger halls in the Norman building, and since 1858 special appropriations have been made by Congress for its maintenance; but, outgrowing its quarters, an independent building was erected by Congressional aid in 1881. This building has an available floor space of one hundred thousand square feet, but has been greatly overcrowded for many years. The director of the museum, who is also Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Brown Goode, LL. D., is assisted by thirty-three curators in charge of as many departments. These are: arts and industries, embracing twelve sections; materia medica, animal products, naval architecture, fisheries, foods, historical collections, coins and medals, transportation and engineering. Oriental antiquities, graphic arts, forestry, physical apparatus, helminthology, ethnology, American prehistoric pottery, prehistoric anthropology, mammals, birds, birds' eggs, reptiles and batrachians, fishes, vertebrate fossils, mollusks, insects, marine invertebrates, comparative anatomy, invertebrate fossils—paleozoic, mesozoic, and cenozoic—fossil plants, botany, minerals, geology. This mere catalogue of departments shows the prodigious range of subjects, the total number of specimens being more than three and a half millions. Nearly a quarter million of specimens were added in the twelve months ending 1892. The growth of the museum is due to many sources; these comprise the results of exchanges both abroad and at home, explorations by different departments of Government and by the Smithsonian Institution, collections secured through gift of foreign governments, and, most important of all, the collections obtained from several local and international exhibitions, in which the museum has always taken an active part.

An important activity of the museum is its generous distribution of duplicate specimens in natural history to scientific societies, colleges, and other educational institutions throughout the United States. Between 1871 and 1890, two hundred and seventy-eight thousand specimens were so distributed.

The museum is a favorite place of resort on the part of residents in, and visitors to, the Capital. In the year ending June 30, 1893, over three hundred thousand persons availed themselves of its privileges. Their examination of the objects is much
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Interior of the United States National Museum

hampered by the overcrowded state of the building, but it is assisted by the invariable courtesy of those in charge of the sections, and by books of educational value placed in the several departments. It rests with Congress to make an appropriation for erecting another building twice the size of the existing one, and only then will it be possible to display the treasures now stored in dark corners or still resting in unpacked cases.

The publications of the National Museum comprise two series: Proceedings of the National Museum, consisting of short essays giving accounts of recent accessions or newly ascertained facts in natural history, and promptly issued to secure the earliest diffusion of the information. These proceedings were begun in 1878, and are now comprised in seventeen volumes, octavo.

Bulletins of the National Museum, consisting of more elaborate memoirs relative to the collections, such as biological monographs, taxonomic lists, etc., varying in size from a few pages to many hundred pages. The bulletins were begun in 1875 and comprise fifty numbers to date.

The Bureau of American Ethnology was established in 1879, to conduct ethnological researches among North American Indians, and is supported by annual appropriations of Congress. The work is under the immediate direction of Major J. W. Powell, who was also a long time at the head of the United States Geological Survey, assisted by eminent specialists. The bureau conducts mound explorations, studies in ethnology, archæology, pictography, and linguistics of North America. Through its medium a wealth of information concerning the aborigines of North America is being treasured and made available to present scholars and to posterity.

The Bureau publishes four series of works:

1. Annual Reports, begun in 1870, now comprise twelve volumes, royal quarto. This series is handsomely printed and illustrated, and is both creditable to the Government and well adapted to attract public attention.

2. Contributions to North American Ethnology, begun in 1877; nine volumes, quarto.

3. Introductions to the study of various topics; begun in 1877; four volumes, quarto.

4. Bulletins; begun in 1877; twenty-six volumes, quarto.

The National Zoological Park.—From a desire to preserve certain American wild animals rapidly becoming extinct, living animals were exhibited in temporary quarters near the National Museum for several years. In 1880 the preliminary steps for the establishment of a Zoölogical Park were taken by the appropriation by Congress of two hundred thousand dollars for the purchase of land, and the park was actually founded by an act dated April 30, 1890, providing for the "organization, improvement, and maintenance" of a National Zoölogical Park. This act places the park under the direction of the Smithsonian Institution, and orders that it be administered for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.

As soon as surveys could be completed, about one hundred and seventy acres of ground most picturesquely situated on Rock PSM V48 D498 George Brown Goode.jpgG. Brown Goode. Creek, near Washington City, were secured and preparations begun for the reception of animals. This undertaking is so recent that little more has been accomplished than constructing roads, building animal houses, fences, etc., but there are already more than five hundred animals in the embryo Zoo. The natural features of the region, with its watercourses, ravines, rocky cliffs, forest trees, open glades, and sunny southern slopes, are superior to any site occupied in this way abroad or at home, and its extent is ten to fifty times greater than that of most of the gardens of Europe. Under the management of Dr. Frank Baker, the future of the National Zoölogical Park is very great; he plans to place the animals on ground appropriate to their natural habits and instincts, so that they can live under conditions similar to those enjoyed in freedom—a scheme only possible in a park of such great extent and variety of natural features.

Astro-physical Observatory.—Prof. Baird had begun preparations for the establishment of an observatory for the study of the physical condition of celestial bodies, and when Mr. Langley succeeded to the secretaryship this eminent authority on solar physics soon secured its endowment by Congress. The late Dr. J. H. Kidder bequeathed five thousand dollars for prosecuting physical researches, and Dr. Alexander Graham Bell presented the like sum to the Secretary for the same purpose. In 1889-'90 a temporary wooden building was erected in the Mall south of the Norman building, and, though not entirely suitable for delicate research, much excellent work has been accomplished. In it are placed a Grubb siderostat, a spectro-bolometer constructed by Grunow & Son, and a galvanometer. These instruments, in the hands of Prof. Langley, are producing remarkable results, considering the inferior building and unsatisfactory site. It is to be hoped that these conditions will speedily be improved through Congressional appropriations.

Hodgkins Fund and Prizes.—Previous to the year 1891 the Smithsonian Fund had received only two small additions by gifts or bequests: one thousand dollars from Mr. James Hamilton in 1875, and five hundred dollars from Mr. Simeon Habel in 1880. In the year 1891, however, Mr. Thomas G. Hodgkins, of Setauket, N. Y., made the handsome donation of two hundred thousand dollars to the general fund, with certain conditions. In the formal statement of Mr. Hodgkins, dated September 22, 1891, he used these words: "This fund, to be called the Hodgkins Fund, and all premiums, prizes, grants, or publications made at its cost, are to be designated by this name; the interest of one hundred thousand dollars of this fund to be permanently devoted to the increase and diffusion of more exact knowledge in regard to the nature and properties of atmospheric air, in connection with the PSM V48 D499 John Wesley Powell.jpgJ. W. Powell. welfare of man in his daily life, and in his relations to his Creator, the same to be effected by the offering of prizes, for which competition shall be open to the world, for essays in which important truths regarding the phenomena on which life, health, and human happiness depend shall be embodied, or by such other means as in years to come may appear to the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution calculated to produce the most beneficent results."

To carry out the wishes of the donor, the following provisions for prizes, essays, and the Hodgkins medal were adopted by the institution, and announced in a circular issued in March, 1892:

1. A prize of ten thousand dollars for a treatise embodying some new and important discovery in regard to the nature or properties of atmospheric air.

2. A prize of two thousand dollars for the most satisfactory essay upon (a) the known properties of atmospheric air, considered in their relationships to research in every department of natural science, and the importance of a study of the atmosphere, considered in view of these relationships; (b) the proper direction of future research, in connection with the imperfections of our knowledge of atmospheric air, and of the connections of that knowledge with other sciences.

3. A prize of one thousand dollars for the best popular treatise upon atmospheric air, its properties and relationships (including PSM V48 D500 Comparative areas of zoological parks.jpgComparative Areas of Zoological Parks. those to hygiene, physical and mental). This essay need not exceed twenty thousand words in length; it should be written in simple language, and be suitable for publication for popular instruction.

4. The Hodgkins medal of the Smithsonian Institution will be awarded annually, or biennially, for important contributions to our knowledge of the nature and properties of atmospheric air, or for practical applications of our existing knowledge of them to the welfare of mankind. The medal will be of gold, with a duplicate in silver or bronze.

The treatises may be written in English, French, German, or Italian, and should be sent to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution before July 1, 1894; except those in competition for the first prize, which may be delayed until December 31, 1894. The time was subsequently extended to December 31, 1894, for all prizes.

Provision was made in the circular for a committee of award, for extending the dates above named, and for modifying the conditions prescribed. The circular also stated that special grants of money will probably be made to specialists engaged in original investigation upon atmospheric air and its properties.
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View in the National Zoölogical Park.

In a supplementary circular, issued in April, 1893, it was stated that any branch of natural science may furnish subjects of discussion for the Hodgkins prizes, provided the subjects are related to the study of the atmosphere in connection with the welfare of men: "Thus, the anthropologist may consider the history of man as affected by climate through the atmosphere; the geologist may study in this special connection the crust of the earth, whose constituents and whose form are largely modified by atmospheric influences; the botanist, the atmospheric relations of the life of the plant; the electrician, atmospheric electricity; the mathematician and physicist, problems of aërodynamics in their utilitarian application; and so on through the circle of the natural sciences, both biological and physical, of which there is perhaps not one which is necessarily excluded.

"In explanation of the donor's wishes, which the institution desires scrupulously to observe, it may be added that Mr. Hodgkins illustrated the catholicity of his plan by citing the experiments of Franklin in atmospheric electricity and the work of the late Paul Bert upon the relations of the atmosphere to life as subjects of research which, in his own view, might be properly considered in this relationship."

Eight thousand copies of these circulars were sent to institutions and investigators throughout the world, and applications for grants soon reached the Secretary of the Smithsonian.

In 1893 two grants were made: one of five hundred dollars to Dr. O. Lummer and Dr. E. Pringsheim, of the Physical Institute, Berlin University, for researches on the determination of an exact measure of the cooling of gases while expanding; and a second grant of one thousand dollars to Dr. J. S. Billings, United States Army, and Dr. Weir Mitchell, of Philadelphia, for investigations into the nature of the peculiar substances of organic origin contained in the air expired by human beings, with specific reference to the ventilation of inhabited rooms.

Mr. Thomas George Hodgkins died November 25, 1892, at the advanced age of nearly ninety years; being, next to Smithson, the most generous benefactor of the institution. A brief sketch of his life is appropriate. He was born in England in 1803, of highly respectable ancestry; his early education was in France, where he acquired language, habits, and manners influencing all his later life. At the age of seventeen, led by a youth's love of adventure, and seeking relief from domestic unhappiness, he shipped before the mast on a trading vessel bound for Calcutta. The vessel was wrecked near the mouth of the Hoogly and the young man found himself penniless, friendless, and ill in a hospital in Calcutta. While in this sad plight, he made up his mind, so he said, to acquire a fortune and to devote it to philanthropic
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Deer House in National Zoölogical Park

ends. After recovering he returned to England, then visited Spain, and after marrying in England he came to the United States in 1830. He immediately engaged in business and after thirty years of successful ventures he retired on a handsome fortune. The fifteen years following this he spent in traveling over Europe and America, and in 1875 settled on "Brambletye Farm" at Setauket, Long Island, where he led a quiet, retired life. For more than thirty years Mr, Hodgkins made a special study of the atmosphere in its relation to the well-being of humanity. PSM V48 D504 Thomas George Hodgkins.jpgThomas George Hodgkins. He believed that this study was important, not only with reference to man's physical health, but even in relation to his moral and spiritual nature, and he hoped that the concentration of thought upon the atmosphere and its study from every point of view would in time lead to results which would justify his almost devout interest in the subject.

Mr. Hodgkins had no family and no known blood relations, and, recognizing the difficulties which often arise over the settlement of large estates, he chose to be his own executor; he therefore gave away his entire wealth to various public institutions; these gifts included large sums to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and the similarly named society for protecting animals; and one hundred thousand dollars to the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

Since writing the foregoing pages, the Committee of Award for the Hodgkins Prizes has completed its examination of the papers submitted in competition. These papers were two hundred and eighteen in number, and were sent from almost every quarter of the globe. The committee consisted of Prof. S. P. Langley, ex officio, Prof. G. Brown Goode, Dr. John S. Billings, Prof. M. W. Harrington, together with a foreign Advisory Committee, composed of the late Prof. T. H. Huxley, M. J. Jansen, and Prof. Wilhelm von Bezold.

On August 6, 1895, the committee announced the following awards:

First Prize, of ten thousand dollars, for a treatise embodying some new and important discoveries in regard to the nature and properties of atmospheric air, to Lord Rayleigh, of London, and Prof. William Ramsay, of the University College, London, for the discovery of argon.

Second Prize, of two thousand dollars, not awarded, owing to the failure of any contestant to comply strictly with the terms of the offer.

Third Prize, of one thousand dollars, to Dr. Henry de Varigny, of Paris, for the best popular treatise upon atmospheric air, its properties and relationships. Dr. de Varigny's essay is entitled L'Air et la Vie.

Besides these capital prizes, three silver medals and six bronze medals, coupled with honorable mention, were awarded to gentlemen for essays of great merit. To name all those awarded honorable mention would occupy more space than at our command.

On November 7th, Lord Rayleigh and Prof. William Ramsay called at the United States embassy, London, and received from the Secretary a check for ten thousand dollars, communicated by the Smithsonian Institution. It was a fortunate circumstance that the Smithsonian had the opportunity of awarding the first prize for so momentous a discovery as that of argon.

Finances.—The Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents for the year ending June 30, 1895, gives the following as the financial status of the institution:

Total Funds in 1895.

Bequest of Smithson, 1846 $515,169
Residuary legacy of Smithson, 1867 26,210
Savings from income, 1867 108,620
Bequest of James Hamilton, 1875 1,000
Accumulated interest of the James Hamilton fund, 1895 1,000
Bequest of Simeon Habel, 1880 500
Sale of bonds, 1881 51,000
Gift of Thomas G. Hodgkins, 1891 200,000
Residuary legacy of T. G. Hodgkins, 1894 8,000

Receipts in 1894-95.

Interest on fund, one year $54,473
International exchanges 17,000
Bureau of Ethnology 40,000
National Museum 166,500
Astro-physical Observatory 9,000
National Zoölogical Park 50,000

In addition to the above funds the Smithsonian Institution will soon receive the proceeds of a bequest made by the late Robert Stanton Avery, of Washington City, who died in 1894. The property bequeathed is estimated to be worth about seventyfive thousand dollars, and the income is to be devoted to special investigations in magnetism and electricity.

Finally, the position of the Smithsonian Institution is that of a "ward of the Government, having property of its own for which that Government acts as trustee, leaving its administration wholly with regents." Its most important function is to promote original research, reflecting thus the sentiment which occurs in the writings of James Smithson: "Every man is a valuable member of society who by his observations, researches, and experiments procures knowledge for men." The advancement of utilitarian interests commonly finds capital, for it appeals to the avarice of man; but the advancement of knowledge in its highest and widest sense secures little encouragement from wealthy men, and it is exactly this phase which the institution makes its own. Its next function is to make known to the world knowledge thus secured, for the benefit of mankind, and this it seeks to accomplish through its publications and their wide distribution.

The influence of the institution in local education is well shown by the following circumstance: Some years ago I was standing on the porch of the Norman building as two stout African "ladies" passed by. One of these remarked, "Let us go in there," pointing to the entrance. "Oh, no," replied the lady addressed, "there is nothing in there but 'Prehistoric Anthropology,'" pronouncing the words glibly and accurately. I listened with amazement, and pondered.


The changes in form which the bookcases underwent in monastic libraries were described by Mr. J. Willis Clark at the recent meeting of the British Royal Archæological Institute. The first form was an elongated lecturn placed at right angles to the wall between the windows, so that readers might have plenty of light to read the books that were chained to it. Splendid isolated examples remain at Lincoln, and a whole library of them at Zutphen. Owing to the large space they occupied, these lecturns were replaced by open bookcases with two shelves on each side. Of this style were the bookcases at Merton College, made in 1365, which served as the model for collegiate libraries in Oxford generally; and it is clear from contemporary documents that like bookcases were in use at Citeaux, Clairvaux, and Canterbury. The modern system of placing shelves against a wall was first adopted at the Escurial in 1584, and was introduced by Wren at Lincoln in 1675. At Trinity College, Cambridge, Wren ingeniously combined the ancient and modern methods by dividing the library into what he termed "cells," or places of study, formed of bookcases against the walls, and others at right angles to them.