Today in Smithsonian History: January 24, 1865

An engraving made from this heavily retouched photograph was published in Harper’s Weekly, February 1865. The Harper’s Weekly image has the entire building consumed in flames, inaccurate since the east wing did not sustain much damage. The photograph was taken and retouched by Alexander Gardner (1821 – 1882).

January 24, 1865  A fire that starts when workmen accidentally install a stovepipe into the brick lining the roof rather than into a flue burns for days and destroys much of the Smithsonian Institution Building.

All of James Smithson’s personal effects and mineral collection are destroyed, with the exception of his portrait and personal library. Also lost are the contents of Secretary Joseph Henry’s office, including correspondence, scientific papers, diaries and the completed manuscript of the annual report, as well as many meteorological records, scientific instruments, and John Mix Stanley’s portraits of American Indians.

Read more about the Castle’s vulnerability to fire and early efforts at prevention on the Smithsonian Institution Archives blog, The Bigger Picture.

Posted: 24 January 2017
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