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Upon his appointment as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in December 1846, Joseph Henry had been promised a yearly salary of $3,500 and lodgings. Almost a decade later Henry and his family still lived in temporary rented accommodations close to the Smithsonian Building.
The construction of this suite of rooms in 1855 in the East Wing remedied the situation. The rooms of the adjoining East Range, used as laboratories and workrooms for natural history, proved to be a constant source of annoyance for Henry and his family, due to foul odors seeping into the living quarters. Despite these fumes, Henry was generally pleased with his living situation, stating, "we have very pleasant and commodious apartments in the Smithsonian building...."