The origins of the Division of Fishes of the United States National Museum and its ichthyological work can be traced to the arrival of Spencer F. Baird as Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1850, along with his natural history collections. Baird brought Charles Frederic Girard to the Institution the same year and Girard remained until 1860, publishing a number of papers based on the Institution's collections of fishes. Theodore Nicholas Gill joined the Smithsonian in 1859 to help prepare the reports for the Northwestern Boundary Survey and spent much of his time working on the museum collections, although he was never an official division staff member. Fish deposited by the United States Fish Commission and its successor agencies have also contributed importantly to the collection.
The Division of Fishes and the United States Fish Commission were closely associated from the latter's founding in 1871. In addition to Baird's duties as Assistant Secretary, he was Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries from the Commission's founding until his death in 1887. He also assigned Smithsonian staff members to Fish Commission duties; and the distinction between the activities of the Fish Commission and the Division of Fishes is very nebulous in these papers, particularly for the early period.
Tarleton Hoffman Bean joined the staff as Assistant Ichthyologist in 1877 and became Curator following the formal organization of the United States National Museum in 1880. Fish Commission duties became too time-consuming, however; and he served only as an Honorary Curator from 1888 to 1905. His brother, Barton A. Bean, was appointed Assistant in 1882, Aid in 1886, and Curator in 1890. He retained this title until his retirement in 1932. Barton Warren Evermann held the title of Curator from 1906 to 1913, but apparently spent the greater part of his time on Bureau of Fisheries matters. Other curators represented in these records include George Sprague Myers, Assistant Curator, 1933-1936, and Leonard Peter Schultz, Assistant Curator, 1936-1938, who became Curator in 1938.
For a description of the record series of which these materials are a part, refer to "Forms part of" above.
(1) Outgoing correspondence, 1882-1914; (2) correspondence, 1865, 1867, 1869-1941; (3) divisional accession record, 1884-1936; (4) divisional distribution record, 1882-1934; (5) invoices, packing memoranda, and related materials concerning specimens sent out, 1895, 1911-1913, 1915, 1918-1923
The records include the official correspondence of the Division, chiefly concerning identification, loan, and acquisition of specimens; requests for information from scientists and the public; research being conducted by the staff; and the administrative affairs of the Division. There is extensive correspondence with David Starr Jordan and Henry Weed Fowler.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520