Smithsonian Institution Archives

“On 10 August 1846, the United
States Congress passed the legislation (9 Stat. 102) founding the
Smithsonian Institution as an establishment dedicated to the “increase
and diffusion of knowledge,” and President James K. Polk signed it into
law the same day. This legislation was the culmination of over a decade
of debate within the Congress and among the general public over an
unusual bequest. When the English chemist and mineralogist, James
Smithson, died in 1829, he left a will stating that if his nephew and
sole heir died without heirs, his estate should go to the United States
to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution,
an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.

Page 1 of act organizing the Smithsonian InstitutionBy a vote of 26 to 13, the U.S. Senate passes the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution which is signed into law by President James K. Polk. Among its provisions, the Organic Act specifies: a Board of Regents, Chancellor, and Secretary; a “suitable” building with rooms for the “reception and arrangement” of objects of natural history, a chemical laboratory, a library, a gallery of art, and lecture rooms; the transfer to the Institution of all objects of art, natural history, etc., belonging to the United States in Washington; and the deposit in the Smithsonian of one copy of all publications copyrighted under the acts of Congress. The act stipulates that the original legacy of $515,169, plus interest accrued at the rate of 6% on loan to the U.S. Treasury, amounting to $242,129, shall be maintained as a trust fund, and all expenditures and appropriations must come from interest accrued in this fund.

I’m very proud that I work for the Smithsonian Institution. Despite the recent press about the former secretary, Larry Small, I hope the public realizes that the Smithsonian is a great place to visit, to work at and support financially (hint, hint).

Here are a few numbers about the world’s largest museum complex:

Museums 19

Affiliate Museums 144

Research Centers 9

Visitors (2006)
SI Museums 23.2 million
National Zoo 2.6 million
Affiliate museums 20.6 million
Traveling exhibitions 4.5 million
Website visitors 150.0 million

Collections
Objects, artworks and specimens more than 136 million

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