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U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Jack Stephens, Librarian, Science, Technology & Patents Department,
Abraham Lincoln in Group Photo

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences celebrated its 150th anniversary on March 3, 2013 under the slogan, "Celebrating 150 Years of Service to the Nation." The Science, Technology & Patents Department offers access to many resources for information on the history of the Academy and its members, as well as to numerous resources produced and published by it.

The bill that established the National Academy of Sciences was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863. American Historian J. Duane Squires, writing in 1948 in the journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association in an essay entitled "Some Enduring Achievements of the Lincoln Administration, 1861-1865," states that, "The Congressional statute establishing this institution was heartily approved by the President on March 3, 1863." Squires sums up his brief comments on the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences by saying that, "To us today, [...] it is noteworthy that [the] entire trend of institutionalizing and subsidizing scientific research stems from an innovation of the Lincoln administration." (Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, 5(4) 1948; 209).

It would indeed be difficult to overstate the importance of the National Academy of Sciences in the development of American science. The NAS Act of Incorporation, reproduced on the Academy's website, sets out as the body's mission that, "the Academy shall, whenever called upon by any department of the Government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art." The Academy's website describes the institution's early work, from its founding, to its wartime advising on the protection of iron-hulled ships and the longevity of military headstones, to its later recommendations for the formation of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Research Council during World War I. The Academy's website lists other, later milestones in NAS history, from the launching of the first US earth satellite in 1958 to participation in the worldwide International Geophysical Year (IGY). The National Academies website details the many current NAS members who have been awarded national and international prizes. 

The Biographical Memoirs of National Academy of Sciences members going back to 1877 is one of the most important resources on the history of the Academy offered by the Science, Technology & Patents Department. (These documents are also available full text online from the Academy.) The Science Department offers for checkout numerous books by and about such famous past Academy members as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas A. Edison, Edwin Hubble and Margaret Mead.  

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, also held by the Department going back to 1915, is the often-cited weekly interdisciplinary science journal published by the Academy. (The complete run of this journal is also available full text from the Academy.)

The Academy's quarterly popular magazine Issues in Science and Technology is displayed in the Science Department. The upcoming Winter 2013 issue of the magazine, which is also published full text online, contains a special article on the creation of the NAS.

Semicentennial and centennial histories published by the National Academy of Sciences are available for checkout in the Science, Technology & Patents Department, together with many histories of American science.


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