Spencer Fullerton Baird

Spencer Fullerton Baird

Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-87, American zoologist, b. Reading, Pa., grad. Dickinson College, 1840. He was professor of natural history at Dickinson from 1846 to 1850. While at the Smithsonian Institution (from 1850; as secretary from 1878) he supervised the building of a museum to house the collection of North American fauna that had been amassed under his guidance. In 1871, Congress established the U.S. Fish Commission with Baird as its head. Baird set up the Marine Biological Station at Woods Hole, Mass., organized the expeditions of the research ship Albatross, and initiated valuable studies on wildlife preservation. His publications (over 1,000 titles) show a phenomenal range of scientific work. His books on birds inaugurated the so-called Baird school of ornithological description, emphasizing accurate observation of each individual. Among other major studies were the Catalogue of North American Reptiles (with Charles Girard, 1853) and the Catalogue of North American Mammals (1857).

Spencer Fullerton Baird (February 3, 1823August 19, 1887) was an American ornithologist and ichthyologist.


Baird was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He graduated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1840, and next year, made an ornithological excursion through the mountains of Pennsylvania, walking, says one of his biographers, 400 miles in 21 days, and the last day, 60 miles. In 1838, he met John James Audubon, and from then on, his studies were largely ornithological, Audubon giving him a part of his own collection of birds.

After studying medicine for a time, Baird became professor of natural history at Dickinson College in 1845, assuming also the duties of the chair of chemistry, and giving instruction in physiology and mathematics. This variety of duties in a small college tended to give him that breadth of scientific interest which characterized him through life, and made him perhaps the most representative general man of science in America. For the long period between 1850 and 1878, he was assistant-secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., where he encouraged the work of the young naturalists in the Megatherium Club. On the death of Joseph Henry he became secretary. From 1871 until his death, he was also U.S. Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries.

While an officer of the Smithsonian, Baird's duties included the superintendence of the labour of workers in widely different lines. Thus, apart from his assistance to others, his own studies and published writings cover a broad range: iconography, geology, mineralogy, botany, anthropology, general zoology, and, in particular, ornithology; while for a series of years he edited an annual volume summarizing progress in all scientific lines of investigation. He gave general superintendence, between 1850 and 1860, to several government expeditions (including the Pacific Railroad Surveys) for scientific exploration of the western territories of the United States, preparing for them a manual of Instructions to Collectors.

Of his own publications, the bibliography by George Brown Goode, from 1843 to the close of 1882, includes 1063 entries, of which 775 were short articles in his Annual Record. His most important volumes, on the whole, were Catalog of North American Reptiles (1853, with Charles Frédéric Girard), Birds, in the series of reports of explorations and surveys for a railway route from the Mississippi river to the Pacific ocean (1858), of which Dr Elliott Coues says that it exerted an influence perhaps stronger and more widely felt than that of any of its predecessors, Audubon's and Wilson's not excepted, and marked an epoch in the history of American ornithology ; Mammals of North America: Descriptions based on Collections in the Smithsonian Institution (Philadelphia, 1859); and the monumental work (with Thomas Mayo Brewer and Robert Ridgway) History of North American Birds (Boston, 1875-1884; Land Birds, 3 vols., Water Birds, 2 vols).

He died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, site of the great marine laboratory which as an institution which was largely the result of his own efforts, and which has exercised a wide effect upon both scientific and economic ichthyology.


Natural world

Sea vessel

  • M.V. Spencer F. Baird, Ocean-suveying ship


See also

Further reading

Link to his NY TIMES obituary, which contains much biographical data

  • Dean C. Allard, Spencer Fullerton Baird and the U.S. Fish Commission. New York: Arno Press, 1978.

External links

Search another word or see spencer fullerton bairdon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature