The Smithsonian Institution, headed by Joseph Henry, was created in 1846 and began establishing a climate observation network. Henry envisioned three types of observers; those without instruments who would observe the sky, extent of clouds, wind, and beginning and ending time of precipitation. A second group would do all that but would also be equipped with thermometers. The third group would be equipped with a complete set of instruments and would additionally observe pressure, humidity, wind direction and wind speed, among other elements. In fact, the Smithsonian Observer Form of 1864 had spaces for 48 observational entries per day. In addition, there was a page on the back of this form devoted soley to comments. In 1847, the Smithsonian became the weather data collection agency for the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
To create the Smithsonian Climate Network, Joseph Henry sent circulars to individuals who were already making observations. James H. Coffin, a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania provided the list of those people. Professor Coffin had been collecting weather reports for several years from independent observers. By 1854, the Smithsonian had observers reporting from thirty-one States and was receiving real time observations by telegraph from some of them. In 1856, Henry contracted with Coffin to receive, analyze, and archive the information reported by the Smithsonian observers. Afterward, Coffin received as many as half-a-million separate weather observations each year. He employed to fifteen people to make the necessary arithmetic calculations — human computers so to speak. In 1861, Coffin published the first of a two-volume compilation of climatic data and storm observations for the years 1854 through 1859.