August 10th marks the anniversary of the passage of the Smithsonian Institution Act, an event which paved the way for the establishment of the immense and awe-inspiring collection of museums and research facilities that are collectively known as the Smithsonian Institution.
In the 1800’s, a British scientist named James Smithson stipulated in his will that should his nephew die without heirs, then the whole of the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an “Establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men.” Ironically enough, Smithson had never visited the United States.
Today, the Smithsonian Institution includes19 museums, the National Zoo, and nine research centers. Most of these are in D.C., but some are located in New York City, Virginia, and other places. The Institution is functionally and legally a body of the U.S. government and employs its own police force.
The institution has over 136 million items in its collection. Some of these include:
- The Hope Diamond
- A giant squid
- The Wright Flyer
- A Harley-Davidson XR-750
- Kermit the Frog
- Bee-Gees, Thundercats, and Flintstones lunch boxes
- A 1955 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon
- …and many more.
Even if you can’t make the trip to D.C., DCPL has resources to help you learn more about this precious national treasure.
For a general overview of the institution, try The Smithsonian: 150 years of adventure, discovery, and wonder by James Conaway, A Picture Tour of the Smithsonian, or Treasures of Smithsonian by Edwards Park.
For museum specific material try:
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: an autobiography edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Alex M. Spencer, The National Museum of Natural History by Philip Kopper, or America’s National Gallery of Art: a gift to the nation by Philip Kopper.
For kids, try S is for Smithsonian: America’s museum alphabet by Marie and Roland Smith or The Smithsonian Institution by Mary Collins.
And for your viewing pleasure, don’t miss Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian starring Ben Stiller and Amy Adams.
By the way, James Smithson finally did come to this country. His remains are entombed in the Smithsonian Institution Building , otherwise known as “the Castle” (seen at the top of this post).