Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian, founded in 1846, is the largest research complex and museum in the world. There are 19 galleries and museums, nine research facilities and the National Zoological Park. The majority of the museums, eleven, are located on the National Mall. The Mall is located between the United States Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

There are other museums located within Washington D.C. and one is in Chantilly, Virginia, and two are located in New York City, which are also part of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian has close ties to another 168 museums located in 39 states, Puerto Rico and Panama.

Those particular museums fall under the title of "Smithsonian Affiliated" museums. The Smithsonian gives these museums artifacts on a long-term lease agreement. These particular long-term leases are not the only exhibits from the Smithsonian that are not in the actual Smithsonian museums. In 2008, the Smithsonian distributed travelling exhibitions to over 500 venues across the United States. There is also a long list of research centers.

The Smithsonian was established because of the generosity of James Smithson a British scientist. He donated his entire estate valued over half of a million dollars to be used for an establishment in order to "increase the diffusion of knowledge." Smithson knew nothing about the country of United States at the time and there are many theories as to why he left his estate to a country he knew nothing about.

Following eight years of spirited debate in Congress, an Act of Congress that President James Polk signed in August of 1846 officially established the Smithsonian Institution. It was established as a trust that would be watched over by the Board of Regents and operated daily by a Secretary. Since then it has become the largest museum and research complex in the world.


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