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Science & Business – Never Far Apart

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I found the most interesting title while I was working on a major revision to the federal budget guide. It was published by Robert A. Mayo in 1847 and has one of those long titles that were popular in the mid-19th century – A synopsis of the commercial and revenue system of the United States, as developed by instructions and decisions of the Treasury Department for the administration of the revenue laws: accompanied with a supplement of historical and tabular illustrations of the origin, organization, and practical operations of the Treasury Department and its various bureaus, in fulfilment of that system: in eight chapters, with an appendix. It includes two amazing images “Elements of National Thrift and Empire” and “Commerce and Navigation, – Lake, Internal, and Coasting Trade” that illustrate the intertwined relationship between science and business. Many of the images on both were used to illustrate activities and aspirations of the relatively new nation.

“Elements of National Thrift and Empire” is an idealized version of the City of Washington circa 1847. While most of the buildings are representational, there are a few key places of note – the Smithsonian Castle, the White House, the Capitol, and I suspect the Patent building. However, it is the details that illustrate the overall theme and reference science and business.

A Synopsis of the Commercial and Revenue System of the United States by Robert A. Mayo (1847)

The illustrations are a visual representation of the words on the scrolls that run along the bottom. The scroll “RailRoads, Canals, Rivers & Harbors” at the bottom left is mirrored by a boat being towed up the city canal that is just above it and by the harbor on the right side. Additionally, trade and transportation references are peppered throughout – from the goods being traded, to the modes of travel, to the places of trade.

There is also a lot of attention paid to agriculture – uncut wheat, a sheaf of wheat, a plow, a sickle, a cornucopia, etc. The scroll, “Agriculture Manufacture & Mechanical Arts,” is at the bottom center and sits just under an image of George Washington, a noted planter and first president, who sits in the center amid a number of farm implements (above him is a column to represent a monument to him designed by Robert Mills in 1836). There is what appears to be a beehive hiding in the bushes as well as a number of grazing animals, likely symbols of the work and activities around cattle, pigs, and other livestock.

The next scroll is “SCIENCE & ART Parents of Emulation & Enterprise,” and the images there appear to be a grist mill stone and possibly a water wheel. The last scroll says “CHARTER of the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION” which sits below the Smithsonian Castle.

Commerce Navigation
A Synopsis of the Commercial and Revenue System of the United States by Robert A. Mayo (1847)

The other image “Commerce and Navigation, – Lake, Internal, and Coasting Trade” – also contains wonderful imagery – and overall has a more “business” theme but still includes imagery from the “sciences.” There are ocean and coastal vessels as well as a lighthouse and a signal station, which have both business and science connotations. The vessels, wharf, warehouse, train, scale, map of the world, as well as an assortment of trade goods are all signs of a trading economy. The scrolls scattered throughout the image further illustrate the theme – “UNITED STATES WAREHOUSING SYSTEM,” “DOMESTIC PRODUCTS/ FOREIGN PRODUCTS,” “INTERNAL COASTING, AND LAKE TRADE,” “IMPORTS & EXPORTS,” “TARIFF OF THE U. STATES,” “Revenue Marine and Light House System”.

There is a figure of Liberty representing the United States, and flying above it all is Mercury (sometimes seen as Hermes). As the patron god of financial gain, commerce, messages/communication, and travelers, and more in the Roman pantheon, he is definitely an appropriate mythological figure for a lithograph titled “Commerce and Navigation.”

These images visually tie together the intertwined nature of business and science. You can also see this interconnectedness reflected in the Smithsonian’s American Enterprise and science exhibits in their Innovation Wing and in the Library of Congress Science & Business Reading Room, where those doing current and historical research on trade, commerce, communications, agriculture, animal husbandry, livestock, etc. may find material they need in both business and in the sciences.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to one of my favorite LC people – Tom Yee, genius catalog record fixer. He worked for the Library for many years but is now volunteering and is responsible for fixing and enhancing the catalog record for the item that launched this post.

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