Nathan Reingold, 77, a senior historian emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, died Oct. 30 at his home in Bethesda. He died of a stroke and aspiration pneumonia.
Dr. Reingold was mentor to a generation of historians of science, as well as the author or editor of six books, five volumes of "The Papers of Joseph Henry" and dozens of essays. He was instrumental in helping to transform the history of American science from an intellectual backwater to a major area of historical research.
His two most notable books were "Science in Nineteenth-Century America: A Documentary History," published in 1964, and "Science in America: A Documentary History: 1900-1939," co-authored with Ida H. Reingold and published in 1981.
Many of his essays became required reading for students of the history of American science. They ranged in subject areas from the relationship between science and technology in 19th-century America to Hollywood's depiction of the atomic bomb. He long was interested in comparative scientific traditions in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
Dr. Reingold was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the Bronx, where he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. He received his bachelor's degree in 1947, only 21/2 years after graduating from high school, and his master's degree in 1948, both from New York University.
He had originally intended to go to medical school, but instead became a historian of science. He received his PhD in American Civilization in 1951 from the University of Pennsylvania, where a mentor, historian Richard H. Shyrock, encouraged an interest in the history of science. He moved to Washington the same year to work at the National Archives.
From 1959 to 1966, he was on the staff of the Science and Technology Division of the Library of Congress, before moving to the Smithsonian Institution when the secretary of the Smithsonian, S. Dillon Ripley, appointed him founding editor of "The Papers of Joseph Henry." He served 19 years in the position.
The Washington Post described Dr. Reingold as "a jubilant and patient man" in early 1973, shortly after he had completed the first volume of his groundbreaking historical work, which took him five years. The reporter noted that with a projected 14 more volumes, the 46-year-old historian would be about 116 when he finished his project.
Dr. Reingold told him he didn't expect the project to take that long and that it was a labor of love, regardless. Henry, whose statue stands in front of the Smithsonian Castle, was acknowledged as the inventor of the electric motor, the father of daily weather forecasts and the preserver of the Smithsonian. The federal government closed for his funeral on May 16, 1878.
Dr. Reingold also told the reporter that age didn't trouble him, that he had known historians who had lived full lives deep into old age, as had Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian.
Although Dr. Reingold moved on, the Joseph Henry project continues. It's now at nine of a projected 11 volumes, under the editorship of Marc Rothenberg.
In 1987, Dr. Reingold became senior historian at the National Museum of American History, retiring in 1993.
Dr. Reingold often mentioned his pride at having worked in all three of the great national cultural institutions in Washington. Reflecting on his career, he once commented, "I have always tried to arrange things so that I could have fun."
A man with a wry sense of humor, he also was a professional basketball fan, his son recalled.
In addition to his museum appointments, he held a senior post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University and taught at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College, London. A founding member of the governing council of the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York, he served on the council from 1974 to 1990. In Washington, he was a member of the Cosmos Club.
The History of Science Society had planned to honor Dr. Reingold at its Nov. 20 annual meeting for his contributions to the field, and the society's executive committee had recommended that, beginning in 2005, the organization's annual prize for the best graduate student essay be renamed the Nathan Reingold Prize.
Dr. Reingold's first wife, Ida E. Hornstein Reingold, died in 1988.
Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Ellen Miles of Bethesda; and two sons from his first marriage, Matthew Reingold of Bethesda and Nicholas Reingold of Madison, N.J.
of American science.