Smithsonian Secretary, 1878-1887
". . . a National Museum, of which (let me whisper it) I hope to be director."
Whereas Secretary Henry had envisioned the Smithsonian primarily as a research institute, Baird saw Smithson's gift as the means to develop a national museum.
Secretary Baird's vision coincided with a growing sense of nationalism surrounding the celebration of the U.S. Centennial. By 1878 Congress had formally given responsibility for the U.S. National Museum to the Smithsonian Institution.
During the Baird years, the Smithsonian became a showcase for the nation's history, resources, and treasures.
Baird, the Collector
Secretary Baird's most visible accomplishment was his role in building a national collection. In 1850, arriving to work at the Smithsonian as Secretary Henry's assistant, he brought two railroad boxcars full of natural history specimens. As Secretary, Baird wrote more than 3,600 letters a year to a far-flung network of collectors and taught a generation of naturalists how to prepare specimens for museum collections. By the end of his tenure, the National Museum housed more than 2.5 million specimens and artifacts.
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