This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
Guide to the Smithsonian Archives
Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution
Annual Report of the United States National Museum
The history of taxidermy at 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 Museum's exhibition series and of the skills needed to properly prepare and maintain it.
Between 1858 and 1872, the Smithsonian 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.
After the formal organization of the United States National Museum (USNM) in 1880, taxidermic work was under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary in charge of the USNM. From 1897 to 1947, the Chief Taxidermist reported to the Head Curator, Department of Biology, and from 1947 to 1955, to the Head Curator, Department of Zoology. In 1955, USNM taxidermic work and staff became part of the newly created Office of Exhibits.
William Temple Hornaday was appointed USNM Taxidermist in 1882 and remained in the position until 1889 when he became the first Superintendent of the National Zoological Park. Other Chief Taxidermists have included William Palmer, 1891-1902;George B. Turner, 1902-1915; and William L. Brown, 1928-1955, including the years 1951-1955, with the title, Chief Exhibit Preparator. There was no incumbent during the period 1915-1928.
For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520