Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary Search this
57.93 cu. ft. (5 record storage boxes) (104 document boxes) (2 half document boxes) (1 12x17 box) (oversize materials)
This record unit documents the growth and management of the Smithsonian from 1890 to 1929. Of special interest is the Institution's entry into the field of the fine
arts through the creation of the National Gallery of Art and the Freer Gallery of Art. The Smithsonian continued to pursue a wide variety of other interests as well. Thus,
the records deal with the following topics, among others: aviation; the American School of Archaeology in China; the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.; the Cinchona
Botanical Station, Jamaica; many international congresses; numerous national and international expositions, especially the Panama-California Exposition, 1912-1916, and the
Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco, 1914-1915; the George Washington Memorial Association; the Harriman Alaska series; the Kahn Foundation for Foreign Travel of American
Teachers; the Koren Expedition to Siberia; the Langley-Wright aerodrome controversy; the Montezuma solar observatory at Calama, Chile; solar observations at Mount Harqua Hala,
Arizona, and Mount Wilson, California; the Naples Zoological Station; the National Academy of Sciences; the National Research Council; publication of Mary Vaux Walcott's North
American Wildflowers; the Biological Survey of the Panama Canal Zone; the Alfred Duane Pell Collection; the Research Corporation; the Roosevelt African Expedition; seismological
studies; the Charles D. and Mary Vaux Walcott Research Fund; the Smithsonian Scientific Series; grants from the Hodgkins Fund; the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory; and the
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The records include correspondence, minutes, announcements, publications, fiscal records, photographs, manuscripts, and news clippings.
These records document the administration of the Smithsonian Institution during the tenure of Charles D. Walcott, its fourth Secretary, who served from 1907 to 1927.
This period gave a deceptive appearance of strength to the Institution's life. Walcott himself, perhaps the last of the nineteenth-century scientist-politicians to combine
a distinguished scientific reputation and polished ease in the world of political Washington, lent the Institution considerable support from his wide experience and many friends
among the powerful of the day. The Institution's staff also boasted an able corps of scientists and senior administrators. Several new programs were developed during these
years--the National Gallery of Art (now the National Museum of American Art) and the Freer Gallery of Art, in particular. These two galleries gave the Smithsonian its first
real grounding in fine arts and rounded out the vision of the Institution as a place hospitable to all fields of learning.
Yet with the benefit of hindsight, these accomplishments can be seen to have masked real weakness, described either as the Smithsonian's failure to adapt its perception
of itself to the changing world or as a lack of money.
When the Smithsonian was created in 1846 the corpus of its endowment was somewhat more than $500,000.00. It had few rivals elsewhere in the country. However, with the growth
of large-scale private philanthropy after the Civil War, the Smithsonian's means shrank steadily in comparison to the endowments of leading institutions like the Sheffield
Scientific School at Yale or new entrants like Stanford and the University of Chicago. No doubt this situation developed in part because the Smithsonian had no real alumni.
It received a few small gifts from well-to-do members of its own staff and one moderate gift from Thomas George Hodgkins, a naturalized English eccentric. For all else it
relied on small appropriations from the federal government, for which it performed certain services such as curating the collections of the National Museum. Coupled with meager
financial resources was the Regents' suspicion of new and nonscientific endeavors. It is likely, for instance, that the Regents would have refused Charles Lang Freer's gift
of a gallery of oriental art in 1906, had Theodore Roosevelt not obliged them to accept it. In the same way, the gift of certain patents on electrostatic precipitators by
Frederic G. Cottrell in 1911 was politely shunted onto other shoulders, leaving the Smithsonian a remote beneficiary of the income. The Smithsonian's aloofness was in sharp
contrast to the willingness of other institutions to accept such gifts. How this attitude arose is not clear. Perhaps it was an unconscious extension of Joseph Henry's early
determination to associate the Smithsonian's name only with "worthy" purposes. However that may be, the Smithsonian was very late in the field in trying to augment its endowment.
Walcott had begun to plan a campaign to raise $10,000,000.00--documented in record unit 46--which collapsed with his untimely death in 1927. Thus the Institution was to enter
the era of the Depression in very straitened circumstances.