The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and
associated museum complex, administered and funded by the United States
Government and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from
its shops and its magazine. Most of its facilities are located in Washington,
D.C., but its 19 museums, zoo, and eight research centers include sites in
New York City, Virginia, Panama, and elsewhere. It has over 142 million items
in its collections.
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The Smithsonian Institution was founded by a bequest to the United States by
the British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829), who had never visited the
United States himself. In Smithson's will, he stated that should his nephew,
Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to
the United States of America for creating an "Establishment for the increase
& diffusion of Knowledge among men".
The nephew died in 1835 and eight years later, Congress passed an act
establishing the Smithsonian Institution, a hybrid public/private partnership,
and the act was signed into law on August 10, 1846.
The architecture of the main building on the National Mall has made it known
informally as "The Castle". It was built by architect James Renwick Jr. and
completed in 1855. Many of the Institution's other buildings are historical
and architectural landmarks.
The Castle served as a home for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph
Henry, and his family and for many years housed all aspects of Smithsonian
operations, including an exhibit hall from 1858 until the 1960s. In 1901,
Washington's first children's room was installed in the Castle's South Tower
Room where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in
1987. Located inside near the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson,
benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall, a bronze statue of
Joseph Henry, honors the scientist who was the Institution's first Secretary.
In 1996, as the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary, a bell was added.
Although Renwick had intended for a bell in his original plan, there was not
enough money to add it to the Castle.
Though the Smithsonian's first secretary, Joseph Henry, wanted the Institution
to be a center for scientific research, before long it became the depository
for various Washington and U.S. government collections.
The voyage of the U.S. Navy circumnavigated the globe between 1838 and 1842.
The United States Exploring Expedition amassed thousands of animal specimens,
an herbarium of 50,000 examples, shells and minerals, tropical birds, jars
of seawater and ethnographic specimens from the South Pacific. These specimens
and artifacts became part of the Smithsonian collections, as did those collected
by the military and civilian surveys in the American West
Arts and Industry Building
The Arts and Industries Building is the second oldest of the Smithsonian museums
on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Called initially the National Museum,
it was built to provide the Smithsonian with its first proper facility for public
display of its growing collections. The building, designed by architects Adolf
Cluss and Paul Schulze, opened in 1881, hosting an inaugural ball for President
James A. Garfield. (the building is currently closed for renovation)
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