William Jones Rhees.

An account of the Smithsonian Institution, its founder, building, operations, etc. prepared from the reports of Prof. Henry to the regents, and other authentic sources online

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Online LibraryWilliam Jones RheesAn account of the Smithsonian Institution, its founder, building, operations, etc. prepared from the reports of Prof. Henry to the regents, and other authentic sources → online text (page 3 of 10)
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country next to the Texas meteorite at Yale College.

It was brought to this country by Lieutenant Couch, of the United States
Army, he having obtained it at Saltillo. It was said to have come from the Sancha
estate, some fifty or sixty miles from Santa Rosa, in the north of Coahuila ;
various accounts were given of the precise locality, but none seemed very satisfac-
tory. When first seen by Lieutenant Couch, it was used as an anvil, and had
been originally intended for the Society of Geography and Statistics in the city of
Mexico. It is said, that where this mass was found there are many others of
enormous size ; but such stories, however, are to be received with many allow-
ances. Mr. Weidner, of the mines of Freiberg, states, that near the southwestern
edge of the Balson de Mapimi, on the route to the mines of Parral, there is a
meteorite near the road of not less than a ton weight. Lieutenant Couch also
states, that the intelligent, but almost unknown, Dr. Berlandier, writes in his
journal of the Commission of Limits, that at the hacienda of Venagas, there was
(1827) a piece of iron that would make a cylinder one yard in length, with a
diameter of ten inches. It was said to have been brought from the mountains
near the hacienda. It presented no crystalline structure, and was quite ductile.

Prof. J. Lawrence Smith, of the Medical Department of the University of
Louisville, gives the following account of this meteorite : " It weighs 252 pounds,
and from several flattened places I am led to suppose that pieces have been de-



tached. The surface, although irregular in some places, is rather smooth, with
only here and there thin coatings of rust, and, as might be expected, but very
feeble evidence of chlorine, and that only on one or two spots. The specific
gravity is 7.81. It is highly crystalline, quite malleable, and not difficult to cut
with a saw. Its surface etched with nitric acid, presents the Widmannstattian
figures, finely specked between the lines, resembling the representation we have of
the etched surface of Hauptinannsdorf iron. Schreibersite is visible, but so in-
serted in the mass that it cannot be readily detected by mechanical means. Hy-
drochloric acid leaves a residue of beautifully brilliant patches of this mineral."

Prof. Smith, in a lecture on meteorites at the Smithsonian Institution, published
in the Annual Report for 1855, advocates the theory of their lunar origin.

The Apparatus-room contains a large and valuable collection of instruments,
prominent among which is the munificent donation of Dr. Robert Hare, of Philadel-
phia, who, when he resigned the Chair of Chemistry in the University of Pennsyl-
vania, which he filled with honor to himself and his country for nearly thirty years,
presented to the Smithsonian the instruments of research and illustration collected
and used by himself during his long and successful scientific career. The gift was
important, not only on account of its intrinsic value, but also as establishing a pre-
cedent which should be frequently observed by others. Besides the above, there is
a full set of pneumatic instruments, of superior size and workmanship, constructed
expressly for the Institution, by Mr. Chamberlain, of Boston; a set of ingenious




instruments for illustrating
wave motion ; a large electri-
cal machine; Page's Electro-
Magnetic instrument, &c.,
There is also in this room a
large Fresnel Lens, such as
is used in light-houses, and
various instruments for the
illustration of light, heat,
sound, dia-magnetism, etc.


The Institution has just
imported from Carlsruhe,
Germany, a HYDRO-ELEC-
TRIC machine which was
constructed byC. Eisenlohr
expressly to order. The
effects which can be pro-
duced by this machine, are

It consists principally of
a tubular steam boiler rest-
ing upon glass columns, to
secure insulation. The
boiler is to be about two-
thirds filled with the purest
water, which is then heated,
and the pressure of steam
required is equal to six at-
mospheres. The steam at
this high pressure is allowed
to escape through very small
openings. The electricity is
thus produced by the friction
of the particles of water
against the inner surface of the orifices of the jet pieces, through which the steam
issues. The least quantity of oil will destroy the friction, and prevent the devel-
opment of electricity. This machine gives a constant succession of sparks, and
charges a battery of sixteen large jars in thirty seconds.

In the apparatus-room, the most prominent object is a large electrical machine



on an elevated platform. This instrument was constructed by Dr. Robert Hare,
of Philadelphia.





Hie &iiieHj of

Besides a library, a museum, lectures, etc., among the earliest plans was
the formation of a Gallery of Art, and, in accordance with this, a large room
was devoted to this purpose. It was also determined that for .the purpose of
encouraging art, artists might exhibit their pictures here free of expense.
The feature of this gallery is the very interesting series of portraits, mostly
full size, of over one hundred- and fifty North American Indians, with sketches
of scenery, deposited by the artist who painted them, Mr. J. M. Stanley. These
portraits were all taken from life, and are accurate representations of the
peculiar features of prominent individuals of forty-three different tribes, in-
habiting the Southwestern prairies, New Mexico, California, and Oregon. The
faithfulness of the likenesses has been tested by a number of intelligent
persons who have visited the gallery, and have immediately recognized among
the portraits those of the individuals with whom they have been personally
acquainted. The artist expended in the work of obtaining these pictures ten
years of his life, and perseveringly devoted himself to the task in the face of diffi-
culties and dangers which enthusiasm in the pursuit could alone enable him to

The catalogue of the pictures will be found in the appendix.

In this room is also deposited a marble statue, a copy of the celebrated work
of art in Rome, the " DYING GLADIATOR." It was executed by an English sculp-
tor, Jno. Gott.

On the grounds near the Institution is a small building resembling a co f tage.
which is the above establishment. It principally consists, to secure an equable
temperature, of an under-ground room, inclosed within two walls, between which


a current of air is allowed to pass, in order to prevent dampness. It has been
supplied with a set of apparatus for determining the continued variations in di-
rection and intensity of terrestrial magnetism. By a very ingenious application
of the photographic process, the invention of Mr. Brooks, of England, the instru-
ments are made to record, on a sheet of sensitive paper moved by clock work,
their own motions. First, to determine the variations of direction of the horizontal
magnet ; a steel bar, strongly magnetized, is suspended by several fibers of un-
twisted silk, so as to have perfect freedom of motion in the horizontal plane, and
from a gas-light, kept perpetually burning, a single ray of light is thrown upon
the concave mirror permanently attached to the magnetic bar, and consequently
oartaking of its movements. This ray of light is reflected and brought to a focus
. f he surface of a revolving cylinder, moved by clock work, on which the photo-
gru .'C paper is placed. When the magnet is at rest, the pencil of light is sta-
tionary, and consequently traces on the moving paper a simple straight line ; but
vs'hen the magnet is disturbed by the terrestrial perturbations, its oscillations are
recorded by the motion of the pencil of light in a curved or zig-zag line.

'JL -egister the intensity or strength of the magnetic force, another bar magnet
is suspended by two parallel silk threads, about an inch apart, descending from
two hooks fastened to the under side of a plate attached to the ceiling, or some
other support. The plate is then made to revolve through an arc of a circle, until,
by the force of torsion, the magnet is deflected from a north and south to an east
and west direction. It is thus kept yi a state of equilibrium between the force of
^rsion of the threads, tending to turn its north end around still further to the
south ; and the magnetism of the earth, on the other hand, tending to bring it
back to its north and south direction. If in this position the magnetism of the
earth becomes stronger, it will prevail, and the north end of the needle will turn
ard the north. If the magnetism of the earth diminishes in intensity, the
f torsion will prevail, and the same end will move toward the south. These
motiou>. as in the case of the other magnet, are recorded by a beam of light on
the paper surface of the revolving cylinder. But, besides the change of direction
of the horizontal needle, a magnet, so supported as to be free to take any position,
is latitude will arrange itself -with its end dipping toward the horizon. The
^mouu^ ol rhis dip, or variation, varies also in different places, and at different
times ; and to record these changes a bar is supported in the direction of the mag-
net north and south, on two knife edges, like the beam of a balance. Any change
which takes place in the position of a magnet thus arranged is recorded by a
mirror attached to the prolongation of the axes on which the bar turns.

It is proposed to keep these instruments constantly in operation, for the purpose
of comparing results with observations of a similar character in different parts
of the work 1 and also for the purpo? i furnishing a standard to . hich the ob-
servations ade at various points } ; o Coast Survey, and the differ, it scientific
. which are now in - .ross in the western portions of th United
-iy be referred, and v a which they may be compared.


On account of the delicate and peculiar nature of the apparatus employed, the
Magnetic Observatory is not accessible to the public.

Observations are made at 7 A. M., 2 and 9 P. M. every day, of the barometer,
thermometer, psychrometer, the direction of the wind, clouds, amount of rain, etc.
These observations are carefully computed, together with those received from the
Smithsonian corps of observers in every part of the country ; and the material
is thus accumulating for a valuable work on the meteorology of the United States.
Blanks, instructions, and tables are furnished gratuitously to persons who will
make observations. Instruments are supplied when requested, but at the expense
of the parties ordering the income of the Institution being, as yet, insufficient
to meet such and other like desirable outlays.


The instrument noticed in the hall, near the entrance, is a Sulphuric Acid Bar-
ometer, constructed by James Green, 173 Grand st., N. Y., expressly for the In-

The glass tube is 240 inches long, and f ths of an inch in diameter, and is enclosed
in a cylindrical brass case of the same length, and 2 inches diameter. The glass
tube is secured in the axis of the brass case by a number of cork collars, placed
at intervals, which while they prevent all lateral displacement of the tube, enable
it to be moved upwards and downwards for the adjustment of the zero-point.

The reservoir consists of a cylindrical glass bottle of four inches in diameter,
with two openings at the top ; one in the^ axis to admit the lower end of the long
tube, which is tapered to about one-half of the general diameter, the other to
transmit the varying pressure of the atmosphere.

The scale for reading the elevation is divided into inches and tenths, and by
means of a vernier, moved by a rack and pinion, the variations can be measured
to a hundredth of an inch, and estimated to a still smaller division.

The drying apparatus, placed between the external air and the interior of the
reservoir, consists of a tubulated bottle with two openings, containing chloride of
calcium, and connected with the reservoir by an india-rubber tube, by which ar-
rangement the air is deprived of its moisture.

To ascertain the temperature of the column of the liquid, two thermometers are
attached, one at the top and the other near the bottom.

The advantages of the use of sulphuric acid are

1st. That it gives off no appreciable vapor at any atmospheric temperature;
and 2nd. That it does not absorb or transmit air.

A full account of this instrument is given in the proceedings of the American
Association, for the advancement of science, published by Jos. Lovering, Cam-
bridge, Mass., 1857, p. 135.

On the top of the high tower of the Smithsonian building, and also on the
grounds connected with it, may be seen a number of RAIN GAGES.

Several forms of this instrument have been used, but the one which has been
found the best, under all circumstances, is shown in the annexed fi gure.



It consists of

1. A large brass cylinder a, b, c, c?, two
inches in diameter, to catch the rain.

2. A smaller brass cylinder e, f y for
receiving the water, and reducing the
diameter of the column, to allow a greater
accuracy in measuring the height.

3. A whalebone scale s, s, divided by
experiment, so as to indicate tenths and
hundredths of an inch of rain.

4. A wooden cylinder w, w y to be in-
serted permanently in the ground for the
protection and ready adjustment of the in-

To facilitate the transportation, the
larger cylinder is attached to the smaller
by a screw-joint at e.
This instrument is made by James Green, New York, and is sold for $3 00.
Several hundred of these gages have been distributed by the Institution and U.
S. Patent Office.

On one of the towers may be seen an ANEMOMETER, or self-registering in-
strument, for denoting the direction and velocity of the wind. This apparatus
was constructed for the Institution, by Dr. Charles Smallwood, of Montreal, pre-
cisely like one he has in use at his observatory in that city.

The system of international exchange, planned and perfected by the Smith-
sonian Institution, has become very important in its results. In fact, it is now
the principal medium of communication between the scientific and literary associa-
tions of the Old and New World. Lately the number of societies availing them-
selves of these facilities has largely increased including, among others, nearly
all the State Agricultural Societies of America, publishing transactions. This
result has been produced by circulars which the Institution issued, to make
this system more generally known Copious returns are being constantly re-
ceived from the societies abroad ; and an intercourse is thus established which
cannot fail to produce valuable results, both in an intellectual and moral point
of view. The packages from the Smithsonian are admitted duty free to all
parts of the Continent of Europe a certified invoice of contents by the Sec-
retary being all that is required to pass them through the Custom Houses. On
the other hand, all packages addressed to the Institution arriving at the ports
of the United States, are admitted, without detention, duty free. Thus it will be
observed that the system of exchange is the most extensive and efficient that has
ever been established in any country. Its effects on our national character and rep-



utation can scarcely be too highly estimated ; for its influence, though silent, is
felt in every part of the globe where science and literature are cultivated.

Several of the ocean steam navigation and a portion of our inland forwarding
and transportation companies, in acknowledgment for the benefits they have re-
ceived, as also to mark their high appreciation of the efforts of the Institution
to promote knowledge, have carried the freight to and from Washington free of
charge. We are pleased to record this fact, so honorable to the parties interested,
and trust all their co-laborers will speedily follow their excellent example.

In the first report presented by Professor Henry to the Regents, he urged as a
leading feature of the operations of the Institution, the publication of memoirs and
periodical reports, the result of the labors of those engaged in original research.
The advantages of this plan were stated as follows :

" In the first place it will serve to render the name of the founder favorably
known wherever literature and science are cultivated, and keep it in continual re-
membrance with each succeeding volume, as long as knowledge is valued. A
single new truth, first given to the world through these volumes will forever
stamp their character as a work of reference. The contributions will thus form
the most befitting monument to perpetuate the name of one whose life was de-
voted to the increase of knowledge, and whose ruling passion, strong in death,
prompted the whole bequest intended to facilitate the labors of others in the same ,



" Again, the publication of a series of volumes of original memoirs will afford
to the Institution the most ready means of entering into friendly relations and
correspondence with all learned societies in the world, and of enriching its library
with their current transactions and proceedings. But perhaps the most important
effect of the plan will be that of giving to the world many valuable memoirs,
which, on account of the expense of the illustrations, could not be otherwise pub-
lished. Every one who adds new and important truths to the existing stock of
knowledge, must be of necessity, to a certain degree, in advance of his age. Hence
the number of readers and purchasers of a work, is often in the inverse ratio of
its intrinsic value, and consequently authors of the highest rank of merit, are
frequently deterred from giving heir productions to the world on account of the
pecuniary loss to which the publication would subject them. When our distin-
guished countrymen, Bowditch, contemplated publishing his commentaries on La
Place, he assembled his family and informed them that the execution of his design
would sacrifice one-third of his fortune, and it was proper that his heirs should be
consulted on a matter which so nearly concerned them. The answer was worthy
the children of such a father. ' We value/ said they, t your reputation more
than your money.' Fortunately in this instance the means of making such a sac-
rifice existed ; otherwise one of the proudest monuments of American science could
not have been given to the world. In a majority of cases, however, those who are
most capable of extending human knowledge are least able to incur the expense of
its publication. Wilson, the American ornithologist, states in a letter to Michaux,
that he has sacrificed everything to publish his work. 1 1 have issued/ says he,
* six volumes, and am now engaged on the seventh ; but as yet I have not received
a tingle cent of the proceeds/ The following remarks, which are directly to this
point, occur in an address on the subject of natural history, by one of the most
active cultivators of this branch of knowledge : ( Few are acquainted with the fact
that from the small number of scientific works sold, and the great expense of the
plates, our naturalists not only are not paid for their labors, but suffer pecuniary
loss from their publications. Several works on the different branches of zoology,
now in the course of publication, will leave their authors losers by an aggregate
of $15,000. I do not include in this estimate works already finished one, for
instance, the best contribution to the natural history of man, extant, the publica-
tion of which will occasion its accomplished author a loss of several thousand dol-
lars. A naturalist is extremely fortunate if he can dispose of two hundred copies
of an illustrated work, and the number of copies printed rarely exceeds two hun-
dred and fifty."

The Smithsonian publications are presented to learned societies, public libraries,
and other institutions in all parts of the world, and can be purchased by indi-
viduals, at about the cost of paper, printing, and binding. If circumstances
admitted, the Regents would give a much more extended circulation to their
publications ; but their limited means prevent it. The fact must not be lost sight
of that this is only one of their many operations. The cost of the publication by
government of the Patent Office Report is more than quadruple the whole in-


come of the Smithsonian Institution. Each memoir is printed separately, and
with a separate title and paging, so that it can be distributed to persons most in-
terested in its perusal as soon as it comes from the press, without waiting for the
completion of the volume to which it belongs. In this way the author is enabled
to present a full account of his discoveries to the world, with the least possible
delay ; while, by the rules of the Institution, he is allowed to publish an abstract
of his paper in the proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, or in those of any properly organized society. The number of copies
of the Smithsonian publications distributed is greater than that of the transactions
of any scientific or literary society ; and, therefore, the Institution offers the best
medium to be found for diffusing a knowledge of scientific discoveries. Every
memoir published is issued with the stamp of approval of a commission of compe-
tent judges ; and, in order to secure a cautious and candid opinion, the name of
the author, and those of the examiners are not made known to each other unless
a favorable report is given ; and in this case, the names of the commission are
printed, as vouchers for the character of the memoir, on the reverse of the title
page. This plan secures an untrammeled expression of opinion, while it induces
caution on account of the responsibility which it involves.


The following rules have been adopted for the distribution of the quarto vol-
umes of the Smithsonian Institution :

1. They are to be presented to all learned societies which publish transactions,
and give copies of these in exchange to the Institution.

2. To all foreign libraries of the first class, provided they give in exchange their
catalogues or other publications, or an equivalent in their duplicate volumes.

3. To all the colleges in actual operation in this country, provided they furnish
in return, meteorological observations, catalogues of their libraries and their stu-
dents, and all other publications issued by them relative to their organization and

4. To all States and Territories, provided there be given, in return, copies of
all documents published under their authority.

5. To all incorporated public libraries in this country, not included in any of
the foregoing classes, containing more than 7000 volumes ; and to smaller libra-
ries, where a whole State or large district would be otherwise unsupplied.

6. Separate memoirs are sometimes presented to minor institutions.

There is one part of the Smithsonian operations that attracts no public atten-
tion, though it is producing, it is believed, important results in the way of diffusing
knowledge, and is attended, perhaps, with more labor than any other part. This
is the scientific correspondence of the Institution. Scarcely a day passes in which
communications are not received from persons in different parts of the country,
containing accounts of discoveries, which are referred to the Institution, or asking


questions relative to some branch of knowledge. The rule was early adopted to
give respectful attention to every letter received, and this has been faithfully ad-
hered to from the beginning up to the present time.

These communications relate to a great variety of subjects. Any topic which
strongly excites the attention of the public at a given time, such as the announce-
ment in the papers of a wonderful discovery, or an important invention which
promises to introduce extensive changes in the useful arts, is sure to bring upon

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Online LibraryWilliam Jones RheesAn account of the Smithsonian Institution, its founder, building, operations, etc. prepared from the reports of Prof. Henry to the regents, and other authentic sources → online text (page 3 of 10)