1829, in Genoa, Italy, English scientist James Smithson died after a long illness,
leaving behind a will with a peculiar footnote. In the event that his only nephew
died without any heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go
to "the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name
of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion
of knowledge." Smithson's curious bequest to a country that he had never
visited aroused significant attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
at Pembroke College, Oxford, James Smithson went on to conduct research in chemistry,
mineralogy and geology. Based on his chemical analysis of calamines, a carbonate
of zinc was renamed smithsonite in his honor in 1832.
years after his death, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, indeed died without
children, and on July 1, 1836, the U.S. Congress authorized acceptance of Smithson's
gift. President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate
for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11
boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, eight shillings, and seven
pence, as well as Smithson's mineral
collection, library, scientific notes,
and personal effects.
the gold was melted down, it amounted to a fortune worth well over $500,000. After
considering a series of recommendations, including the creation of a national
university, a public library, or an astronomical observatory, Congress agreed
that the bequest would support the creation of a museum, a library, and a program
of research, publication, and collection in the sciences, arts, and history. On
August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into
law by President James K. Polk.
the Smithsonian is composed of 18 museums and galleries and many research facilities
throughout the United States and the world. Besides the original Smithsonian Institution
Building, popularly known as the "Castle," visitors to Washington, D.
C., tour the National Museum of Natural History, which houses the natural science
collections, the National Zoological Park, and the National Portrait Gallery.
The National Museum of American History houses the original Star-Spangled Banner
and other historic US artifacts.
National Air and Space Museum has the distinction of being the most visited museum
in the world, exhibiting marvels of aviation and space history such as the Wright
brothers' plane and Freedom 7, the space capsule that took the first American
into space. James Smithson, the Smithsonian Institution's great benefactor, is
interred in a tomb in
the Smithsonian Building.
Smithson's generous act of philanthropy began a tradition of giving that has been
carried on by succeeding generations of donors.
more at: James
Smithson's Gift ~Source:
Bob Osgoodby's Tip of The Day