Thank you Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo - shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world. The Institution was founded in 1846 with funds from the Englishman James Smithson (1765 - 1829) according to his wishes "under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." We continue to honor this mission and invite you to join us in our quest.
Smithsonian at a Glance:
- 19 Museums + 1 Zoo
- 155.5M Museum Objects
- 2.2M Library Volumes
- 2,633 Scholarly Publications
The Smithsonian Institution was established with funds from James Smithson (1765--1829), a British scientist who left his estate to the United States to found "at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." On August 10, 1846, the U.S. Senate passed the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution, which was signed into law by President James K. Polk.
Congress authorized acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836, but it took another ten years of debate before the Smithsonian was founded! Once established, the Smithsonian became part of the process of developing an American national identity--an identity rooted in exploration, innovation, and a unique American style. That process continues today as the Smithsonian looks toward the future.
James Smithson and the Founding of the Smithsonian:
Smithson, the illegitimate child of a wealthy Englishman, had traveled much during his life, but had never once set foot on American soil. Why, then, would he decide to give the entirety of his sizable estate - which totaled half a million dollars, or 1/66 of the United States' entire federal budget at the time - to a country that was foreign to him?
Some speculate it was because he was denied his father's legacy. Others argue that he was inspired by the United States' experiment with democracy. Some attribute his philanthropy to ideals inspired by such organizations as the Royal Institution, which was dedicated to using scientific knowledge to improve human conditions. Smithson never wrote about or discussed his bequest with friends or colleagues, so we are left to speculate on the ideals and motivations of a gift that has had such significant impact on the arts, humanities, and sciences in the United States.