Smithsonian Institution History

An Act of Congress passed in 1846 laid the foundation of the Smithsonian on August 10, 1846. It became an institution dedicated to "increase the diffusion of knowledge" and was signed into law by then President James Polk the very same day.

This signing by the president ended close to a decade of debate in Congress and the public over an Englishmen's strange request. James Smithson who passed away in 1829 left a will giving all his estate to the yet unformed USA for the establishment of an institution to increase and diffusion of knowledge to be named the Smithsonian Institution.

After his estate in England went through liquidation, the executor changed the proceeds to gold sovereigns and when they arrived in the States, they were valued at over $500,000. Following the arrival of the estate, debate went on for another decade before the Smithsonian opened to the public.

The Smithsonian was established as a federal establishment but not part of any of the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial) and was to be run by their own board of regents. Charles Lang Freer a Detroit philanthropist donated a collection to the Institution, which became the first private collection to be donated by an individual. The Freer Gallery was officially opened in 1923.

The Smithsonian quickly started to amass collections from the U.S. government such as the United States Exploring Expedition that was donated by the U.S. Navy. Today the Smithsonian has become the world's largest museum and research complex with hundreds of different exhibitions spread out over 19 museums and research centers. It also has items that have been distributed to more than 500 different venues across the United States that are on display to the public. In Washington D.C., the Smithsonian has become one of the most popular visitor attractions for tourists from all over the world. The Institution is also one of the world's largest educational centers.


NOTE: Information on this site is not guaranteed to be accurate. Some content is compiled from 3rd party sources. If you are aware of incorrect or outdated information, feel free to contact us.

Powered by My Market Toolkit.