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Monday, October 19, 2015

A Historic Event: The Secretary's Installation

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Today the Smithsonian is officially welcoming our new Secretary, David J. Skorton, in an installation ceremony held in the Arts and Industries Building.  In celebration of Secretary Skorton’s installation, we are taking a look at other installation ceremonies in the Smithsonian’s history.

The first installation was held for Leonard Carmichael, our seventh Secretary, in the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as the Castle.  Prior to Carmichael, secretaries took office without any ceremony.  Carmichael was also the first Secretary to be chosen from outside the Smithsonian; he had previously been the President of Tufts University. The five Secretaries that preceded Carmichael all spent their careers at the Smithsonian Institution, rising through its ranks.  This very first installation ceremony also set the precedent that all Smithsonian employees were invited to meet the new Secretary.

Chief Justice Burger hands Adams the Kay at Installation, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. 95-261


Secretary Ripley’s Installation featured two separate ceremonies: one private and one public.  The private ceremony was held during a Board of Regent’s meeting and took place a few days prior to Ripley assuming office.  A public ceremony was held on his first day in office, February 1st, 1964.  Held in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Building, all Smithsonian employees and other guests were invited to attend.  Secretary Ripley also began the tradition of the new Secretary receiving the key to the Castle from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Installation of I. Michael Heyman, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. 94-10183.12.

While most installation ceremonies have been held indoors, Secretaries Adams, Heyman, and Small held their installations outdoors on the Mall.  They accepted the key to the castle standing next to the statue of Joseph Henry with the Castle behind them.  While some ceremonies were more low key than others, all included the whole Smithsonian family: staff, emeriti, research associates, fellows, interns and volunteers.  The former Secretary typically participated in the installation of a new Secretary, and the Board of Regents often welcomed the Secretary with a luncheon before or after the installation ceremony.

Rotunda of the Arts and Industries Building, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. No. SIA-77-3202.

This year, Secretary Skorton’s installation has added meaning because it will also serve as the inaugural event in the newly renovated Arts and Industries building.  The Arts and Industries building was the life work of the second Secretary, Spencer F. Baird, and the Smithsonian’s first purpose-built museum, foreshadowing the vast Institution that the Smithsonian has become today.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives

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