The history of taxidermy in the Smithsonian Institution closely parallels the development of the public exhibition role of the United States National Museum. Prior to 1858, specimens in the possession of the Museum were made up chiefly for purposes of scientific study, and the art of the taxidermist was not in great demand. The transfer of the national collections from the Patent Office to the Smithsonian in 1858 provided the initial impetus for the development of the United States National Museum's exhibition series and of the skills needed to properly prepare and maintain it.
Between 1858 and 1872, the Museum used both outside contractors and some staff members to do necessary mounting work. Increased appropriations from Congress in 1872 allowed the hiring of a permanent taxidermist, Joseph Palmer. In 1874, his son William also joined the taxidermic staff. Both Palmers continued their association with the Smithsonian until their deaths, Joseph's in 1913 and William's in 1921. In his later years, Joseph Palmer worked chiefly with the Department of Anthropology, modeling figures for exhibit.
William Temple Hornaday became Taxidermist in 1882 and remained with the Museum until 1889. In the course of his taxidermic work at the Museum, Hornaday began to collect live animals to serve as models for his mountings. The public interest that these animals generated led to the creation of the Department of Living Animals in 1888 with Hornaday as its first Curator. This eventually became the nucleus of the National Zoological Park, which was started in 1890. Hornaday was named the first Superintendent, but policy differences arose which eventually led to his resignation in 1890. In 1896, he became Director of the New York Zoological Park and held that position for thirty years. On Hornaday's resignation, William Palmer was appointed chief Taxidermist.
For a description of the record series of which these materials are a part, refer to "Forms part of" above.
This record unit includes an alphabetical file of correspondence of William Temple Hornaday as Taxidermist and Curator of Living Animals. The correspondence deals mainly with the collecting and shipping of specimens and live animals, Hornaday's trip to Montana in 1886, taxidermy, and the operations of Hornaday's departments. Correspondents include museum officials, collectors, shippers, and taxidermists.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520