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Smithsonian Institution Facts

The Smithsonian Institution is an academic institute and research hub. 

According to the will of James Smithson in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was established as an ‘Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.’ 

A scientist and Englishman, James Smithson inherited half his mother’s estate and stipulated that his fortune would pass on to the Smithsonian Institute if his heir Henry Hungerford had no children. 

The Society was founded soon after Henry Hungerford’s death. 

There are 19 museums, a zoo, and eight research centers at the National Zoo. It is the world’s largest museum and research center.

A total of 137 million objects are housed in its collections.

History of the Smithsonian Institution

The Smithson bequest did not exist when Henry Hungerford died. It was only after learning about the bequest that U.S. President Andrew Jackson notified Congress.

When the Smithson moved from Europe to the United States with Richard Rush, the estate was estimated to be worth $11.1 million.

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Originally, the Smithsonian Building was the Castle, situated near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is a red brick structure that resembled a castle, built after a public design competition in 1946. Smithsonian Institute headquarters are still there.

There are 138 million items in the Smithsonian collections, mostly in the National Museum of Natural History.

In the early days, the Smithsonian’s founder Joseph Henry wanted the Institution to serve scientific research but as the government collected items the Smithsonian became the repository.

Several hundred thousand animal specimens were collected during the United States Exploring Expedition between 1838 and 1842. These artifacts and specimens became part of the Smithsonian collection.

Smithsonian  Galleries and Museums

  • The African American History and Culture Museum
  • The African Art Museum
  • The Air and Space Museum
  • The Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center
  • American Art Museum
  • American History Museum
  • American Indian Museum
  • The Anacostia Community Museum
  • The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • Natural History Museum
  • Portrait Gallery
  • Postal Museum
  • Renwick Gallery
  • American Indian Museum Heye Center
  • The Cooper Hewitt
  • Smithsonian Design Museum

Smithsonian Research facilities

  • Smithsonian Institution Libraries,
  • Museum Conservation Institute,
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • The Marine Station,
  • Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute,
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,
  • Archives of American Art, and the
  • Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Learn More

The Smithsonian has museums in Washington, New York, Virginia, and Florida. Throughout the year, Smithsonian museums in Washington DC are open except for Christmas.

Around 25% of the animals at the National Zoo are endangered. The National Zoo has 400 different species, totaling 2000 animals. The Zoo’s animals include Pandas, Antarctic dolphins, Golden eagles, and cheetahs.

They put out a bi-monthly magazine called Air & Space and a monthly magazine called Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian employs approximately 6300 people, half of whom are government employees.

Each year, the Smithsonian spends more than $800 million on operations.

A lot of the exhibits in the Smithsonian Institute are free.

The project could not progress due to Smithson’s vague instructions. It was John Quincy Adams who brought the dream to fruition, urging Congress to produce a plan for the funds.

Over 30 million people visit the Smithsonian each year from all around the world.

There are numerous pieces of art in the Smithsonian, including the Star-Spangled Banner, even the chef Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen.

They also offer educational programs, a magazine, as well as a website that allows you to access super cool information.