Developing a taste for scientific pursuits at a very early age, and confirmed in those pursuits through the influence of friendships with Agassiz, Audubon, Dana and other leading scientists of the time, Baird was selected as assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution when only twenty-seven years old, and there entered on a career devoted to the promotion, diffusion, and application of scientific knowledge among men, and marked by dignity, sound judgment, fidelity to duty, versatility and general usefulness.
In the many phases of his intellectual development he resembled Franklin and Cope; in the multiplicity of his public duties and in the diversity of the scientific accomplishments in which he attained eminence he had few equals; in founding, organizing and simultaneously directing a number of great national scientific enterprises he was unique among those whose memory is here extolled to-day.
To render an adequate account of the branches of scientific endeavor in which he achieved prominence, benefited his own and future generations and added to his country's renown, one would need to be an ornithologist, a mammalologist, an ichthyologist, a herpetologist, an invertebrate zoologist, an anthropologist, a botanist, a geologist, a paleontologist, a deep-sea explorer, a fishery expert, a fish-culturist, an active administrator of scientific institutions, and an adviser of the federal government in scientific affairs; for Baird was all these and more.
We freely acknowledge to-day the debt that science owed Baird alive and now owes his memory, especially for his inestimable services as assistant secretary and later as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as director of the National Museum, and as head of the Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Among all the establishments with which he was connected, this last was preeminently and peculiarly his own. It was conceived by him and created for him, and it would almost appear that he was created for it, for certainly no other person of his day and generation was so admirably fitted for the task of organizing this bureau and of executing the duties that grew out of its functions as successively enlarged by congress. Insisting on scientific investigations and knowledge as the essential basis for all current and prospective utilitarian work, he drew around him a corps of eminent biologists and physicists; he established laboratories; he laid plans for the systematic study of our interior and coastal waters; he had vessels built that were especially designed and equipped for exploration of the seas. While he thus inaugurated operations which have been of lasting benefit to the fisheries, at the same time he became the foremost promoter and exponent of marine research, and the knowledge we today possess of oceanic biology and physics is directly or indirectly due to Baird more than to any other person. The rapid development