Daguerreotype of Professor Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian

Professor Joseph Henry was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian. In the earliest days the Smithsonian consisted of a single building, the Castle, which housed a museum, library, Henry's family, and other facilities. At the onset of the Civil War, Henry faced questions about his loyalty to the Union. He had close friends that favored succession and as a "scientific racist," Henry believed that people of African descent were biologically inferior. He opposed the abolition of slavery and was criticized for halting a lecture series on that subject and refusing to allow Frederick Douglas to speak. However, Henry did contribute to the Union war effort. He backed Thaddeus Lowe, an aeronaut who conducted military reconnaissance in balloons. Henry also served on a scientific commission that evaluated proposed inventions and designs for the U.S. Navy.
Currently not on view
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
copper (overall material)
open: 5 7/8 in x 9 1/4 in x 1/4 in; 14.9225 cm x 23.495 cm x .635 cm
closed: 5 7/8 in x 4 1/2 in x 9/16 in; 14.9225 cm x 11.43 cm x 1.42875 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Caroline Henry
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Civil War
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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