Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/509

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THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL MUSEUM.

THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL MUSEUM.
By Hon. CHARLES D. WALCOTT,

DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.

A NATIONAL museum should be the center of scientific activity in the country in which it is located. In England the British Museum is the Mecca of scientific men. In Paris, Copenhagen, Vienna, Berlin, and other capitals of Europe the national museum stands in similar relations to the scientific work of its own country. Such a relation our National Museum should hold to scientific men and affairs in America. It should receive and take care of all material that has been or may be valuable for investigation or for the illustration of the ethnology, natural history, geology, products, and resources of our own country, or for comparison with the material of other countries. It should furnish material for all kinds of scientific investigations which deal with specimens or types, and give aid to such researches and publish their results. It should present by illustration such of the results of the scientific investigations of its corps of officers as are susceptible of such representation. It should co-operate with all the higher educational institutions of learning in the country, and assist in the promotion and diffusion of knowledge in all lines of investigation carried on by it. It should provide library facilities, and aid all post-graduate students who may wish to take advantage of the provisions made by the Government for scientific research.

History and Present Organization.—Beginning in a small way in the Patent-Office building early in the century, the "Government" collections of "natural products" were transferred to the custody of the Smithsonian Institution in 1858, where they were installed along with the larger and more valuable collections of the institution. Twenty-three years later, in 1881, the present National Museum building was ready for the great mass of material that had accumulated in the Smithsonian building, and had been transferred from the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. Out of these heterogeneous collections Dr. G. Brown Goode, under the direction of Secretary Baird, of the Smithsonian, organized a museum of broad scope, based on all that had proved best in museum experience to that time. Faithfully he carried forward the work until September, 1896, when his health broke under the strain of too many duties, and one of the best museum administrators the world has yet produced, if not the very best one, passed from us. In January, 1897, I was placed in temporary charge of the administration of the museum as an acting Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and remained in charge until July 1, 1898.