Smithsonian Institute is the world’s largest museum complex and research organization composed of 19 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo.
The Smithsonian Institute is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the Government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities and magazines. Most of its facilities are located in Washington, D.C., but its 19 museums, zoo, and nine research centers include sites in New York City, Virginia, Panama, and elsewhere. It has over 136 million items in its collections ,that’s impressive isn’t it?
In 1826, James Smithson, a British scientist, drew up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs (as he would in 1835), the estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
Smithsonian’s first Secretary, Joseph Henry, wanted the Institution to be a center for scientific research, before long it also became the depository for various Washington and U.S. government collections. The United States Exploring Expedition by the U.S. Navy circumnavigated the globe between 1838 and 1842. The voyage amassed thousands of animal specimens, an herbarium of 50,000 samples, shells and minerals, tropical birds, jars of seawater, and ethnographic artifacts from the South Pacific. These specimens and artifacts became part of the Smithsonian collections, as did those collected by several military and civilian surveys of the American West, including the Mexican Boundary Survey and Pacific Railroad Surveys, which assembled many Native American artifacts and natural history specimens.
The Institution became a magnet for natural scientists from 1857 to 1866, who formed a group called the Megatherium Club. Many scientists of a variety of disciplines work at the various Smithsonian museums, which have become centers for research.
The asteroid 3773 Smithsonian, discovered in 1984, is named in honor of the Institution.
The Smithsonian Institute is established as a trust instrumentality by act of Congress, and it is functionally and legally a body of the federal government. More than two-thirds of the Smithsonian’s workforce of some 6,300 persons are employees of the federal government. The Smithsonian is represented by attorneys from the United States Department of Justice in litigation, and any money judgments against the Smithsonian are paid from the federal treasury.
Science plays a critical role in the daily life of the Institution. More than simply display science in a glass case, the Smithsonian does science. Scientists probe millions of years deep into the past and imagine the future at the edge of the universe.
Every day, Smithsonian science examines many of the world’s most complex and time-sensitive problems. Scientists apply what they learn to improve the quality of life on Earth. They protect imperiled natural resources, assess the consequences of climate change and help keep aircraft safe from bird strikes.
More than 500 Smithsonian scientists, augmented by an equal number of fellows and hundreds of international collaborators, conduct research on all seven continents and serve as experts in a wide scope of disciplines.
Smithsonian Institute is composed of 19 museums :
- Anacostia Community Museum
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- Arts and Industries Building
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Museum of African Art
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Postal Museum
- S. Dillon Ripley Center
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Smithsonian Folkways
- Smithsonian Institution Building
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park
- The National Gallery of Art is affiliated with the Smithsonian, and is run by a separate charter.
The admission is free of charge for all Smithsonian museums and the zoo in Washington, D.C., and the American Indian Museum’s Heye Center in New York. Tickets are not used for general admission.