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In 1872, Hamilton Lanphere Smith published part one of what would become a three-part series entitled Conspectus of the Families and Genera of the Diatomaceae. Smith's synoptic arrangement, which separated diatoms into three tribes subsuming 15 families and 110 genera, was adopted by other diatomists, including such notables as a naturalist for the Challenger Expedition, Francesco Castracane, and the renown microscopist Henri Ferdinand Van Heurck of Belgium.

Smith's exchange of letters, books, and specimens with microscopists from around the world enabled him to publish an invaluable collection of 750 exsiccatae slides entitled Diatomaceareum Species Typicae, distributed in 100-slide sets from 1876–1888.

His private collection of several thousands of diatom slides, 4,000 bottles of cleaned diatoms, and extensive collection of diatomaceous earths was the largest in the United States, as was his personal library of microscopical literature, which contained marginalia and letters and drawings from other diatomists. Both the collection and the library were purchased by Dr Edward Francis Hodges of Indianapolis in 1893.

Fourteen years after Dr. Hodges death, the H. L. Smith slide collection and library began a final series of moves which severed the slide collection into parts and ultimately resulted in the dispersal and loss of the majority of the books, along with Smith's irreplaceable notations and the scientific correspondence of a lifetime.