Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Institution Building or "Castle" on the National Mall serves as the Institution's headquarters.

The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its shops and its magazine. Most of its facilities are located in Washington, D.C., but its 19 museums and seven research centers includes sites in New York City, Virginia, Panama, and elsewhere. It has 142 million items in its collections.

A monthly magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution is also named the Smithsonian.


The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the "increase and diffusion" of knowledge by a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (17651829), who had never visited the United States himself. In Smithson's will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the United States of America for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, President Andrew Jackson informed Congress of the bequest, which amounted to 100,000 gold sovereigns, or $500,000 U.S. dollars ($9,235,277 in 2005 U.S. dollars after inflation).

Act of Congress: Eight years later, Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institution, a hybrid public/private partnership, and the act was signed into law on August 10, 1846 by James Polk. (See Template:UnitedStatesCode (Ch. 178, Sec. 1, 9 Stat. 102).) The bill was drafted by Indiana Democratic Congressman Robert Dale Owen, a Socialist and son of Robert Owen, the father of the cooperative movement.

The crenellated architecture of the Smithsonian Institution Building on the National Mall has made it known informally as "The Castle". It was built by architect James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1855. Many of the other buildings are historical and architectural landmarks. Detroit philanthopist Charles Lang Freer's donation of his private collection for Freer Gallery, and funds to build the museum, was among the Smithsonian's first major donations from a private individual.

Though the Smithsonian's first secretary, Joseph Henry, wanted the Institution to be a center for scientific research, before long it became the depository for various Washington and U.S. government collections.

In 1853 Jefferson Davis (later President of the Confederate States of America) was appointed Secretary of War by Franklin Pierce. Jefferson Davis had been appointed a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, on behalf of the Senate, in 1847 and reappointed; early in 1851. From 1853 to 1857 he was automatically a part of the Smithsonian directorship as Secretary of War. In 1857 Davis reentered the Senate. The, ability of Jefferson Davis was admired by Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry as well as by Bache.

The voyage of the U.S. Navy circumnavigated the globe between 1838 and 1842. The United States Exploring Expedition amassed thousands of animal specimens, an herbarium of 50,000 examples, shells and minerals, tropical birds, jars of seawater and ethnographic specimens from the South Pacific.

The military and civilian surveys in the American West, such as the Mexican Boundary Survey and Pacific Railroad Surveys, assembled many Native American artifacts as well as natural history specimens.

The Institution became a magnet for natural scientists from 1857 to 1866, who formed a group called the Megatherium Club.

The asteroid 3773 Smithsonian is named in honor of the Institution.


The Smithsonian Institution is established as a trust instrumentality by act of Congress, and it is functionally and legally a body of the federal government. More than two-thirds of the Smithsonian's workforce of some 6,300 persons are employees of the federal government. The Smithsonian is represented by attorneys from the United States Department of Justice in litigation, and money judgments against the Smithsonian are also paid out of the federal treasury.

The nominal head of the Institution is the Chancellor, an office which has always been held by the current Chief Justice of the United States. The affairs of the Smithsonian are conducted by its 17-member board of regents, eight members of which constitute a quorum for the conduct of business. Eight of the regents are United States officials: the Vice President (one of his few official legal duties) and the Chief Justice of the United States, three United States Senators appointed by the Vice President in his capacity as President of the Senate, and three Members of the U.S. House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House. The remaining nine regents are "persons other than Members of Congress," who are appointed by joint resolution of Congress. Regents are allowed reimbursement for their expenses in connection with attendance at meetings, but their service as regents is uncompensated. The day-to-day operations of the Smithsonian are supervised by a salaried "Secretary" chosen by the board of regents.

Secretaries of the Smithsonian

  1. Joseph Henry, 18461878
  2. Spencer Fullerton Baird, 1878–1887
  3. Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1887–1906
  4. Charles Doolittle Walcott, 19071927
  5. Charles Greeley Abbot, 19281944
  6. Alexander Wetmore, 1944–1952
  7. Leonard Carmichael, 19531964
  8. Sidney Dillon Ripley, 1964–1984
  9. Robert McCormick Adams, 1984–1994
  10. I. Michael Heyman, 1994–1999
  11. Lawrence M. Small, 2000

See The Secretaries of the Smithsonian Institution.

Smithsonian museums

Air and Space Planes

A variety of aircraft displayed at the National Air and Space Museum. Most notable: Ford Trimotor and Douglas DC-3 (top and second from top)

Smithsonian research centers

The following is a list of Smithsonian research centers, with their affiliated museum in parentheses.


Further reading

  • Nina Burleigh, Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, The Smithsonian, HarperCollins, September 2003, hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 0-06-000241-7

External links

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