On March 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Act of Incorporation that brought the National Academy of Sciences into being. In accordance with that original charter, the Academy is a private, honorary organization of scientists, elected for outstanding contributions to knowledge, who can be called upon to advise the federal government. As an institution the Academy's goal is to work toward increasing scientific knowledge and to further the use of that knowledge for the general good.
The Biographical Memoirs, begun in 1877, are a series of volumes containing the life histories and selected bibliographies of deceased members of the Academy. Colleagues familiar with the discipline and the subject's work prepare the essays. These volumes, then, contain a record of the life and work of our most distinguished leaders in the sciences, as witnessed and interpreted by their colleagues and peers. They form a biographical history of science in America--an important part of our nation's contribution to the intellectual heritage of the world.