The early history of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries reveals the skill of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887) in obtaining federal resources for scientific programs. Baird directed this Commission from 1871 to 1887 in addition to undertaking his duties as a senior Smithsonian Institution official. His success in persuading Congress to establish, and then to fund the growth of the commission, revealed the persistence of his lobbying efforts, a personality that appealed to the Congressmen of his day, and Baird's reputation for frugality. His success also reflected the utility of the Fish Commission's efforts to increase the nation's food supply. Nevertheless, Baird adopted a liberal interpretation of the appropriations earmarked for the Commission's practical programs and redirected some of these resources to a pioneering scientific survey of the coastal and oceanic waters of the Northwest Atlantic.

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