Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution, research and education center, at Washington, D.C.; founded 1846 under the terms of the will of James Smithson of London, who in 1829 bequeathed his fortune to the United States to create an establishment for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The institution began as a museum and today "the nation's attic" is the largest museum complex in the world, with 19 museums, nine research centers, and the national zoo. The vast complex includes the Anacostia Community Museum; the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (New York City); the Freer Gallery of Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Air and Space Museum (both on the National Mall and at Dulles International Airport); the National Museum of African Art; the National Museum of American History; the National Museum of Natural History; the National Museum of the American Indian; the National Portrait Gallery; the National Postal Museum; the National Zoological Park; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is an independent bureau within the institution, and the National Gallery of Art is an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

See The Official Guide to the Smithsonian (2002).

The Smithsonian Institution 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 shops and its magazine. Most of its facilities are located in Washington, D.C., but its 19 museums, zoo, and 9 research centers include sites in New York City, Virginia, Panama, and elsewhere. It has over 136 million items in its collections.

A monthly magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution is also named Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian Police protects the visitors, staff and property of the museums.

Smithsonian Networks is a new multiplatform media network that uses Smithsonian archives and resources to create original high definition video programs.


The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the "increase and diffusion" of knowledge from 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 government of the United States for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, President Andrew Jackson informed Congress of the bequest, which amounted to 104,960 gold sovereigns, or US$500,000 ($9,235,277 in 2005 U.S. dollars after inflation).

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 by James Polk. (See (Ch. 178, Sec. 1, 9 Stat. 102).) The bill was drafted by Indiana Democratic Congressman Robert Dale Owen, a Socialist and son of Robert Owen, the father of the cooperative movement.

The crenellated architecture of the Smithsonian Institution 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. Detroit philanthropist Charles Lang Freer's donation of his private collection for Freer Gallery, and funds to build the museum, was among the Smithsonian's first major donations from a private individual.

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, such as the Mexican Boundary Survey and Pacific Railroad Surveys, which assembled many Native American artifacts as well as natural history specimens.

The Institution became a magnet for natural scientists from 1857 to 1866, who formed a group called the Megatherium Club.

The asteroid 3773 Smithsonian is named in honor of the Institution.


The Smithsonian Institution 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 money judgments against the Smithsonian are also paid out of the federal treasury.

The nominal head of the Institution is the Chancellor, an office which has always been held by the Chief Justice of the United States at the time. The affairs of the Smithsonian are conducted by its 17-member board of regents, eight members of which constitute a quorum for the conduct of business. Eight of the regents are United States officials: the Vice President (one of his few official legal duties) and the Chief Justice of the United States, three United States Senators appointed by the Vice President in his capacity as President of the Senate, and three Members of the U.S. House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House. The remaining nine regents are "persons other than Members of Congress", who are appointed by joint resolution of Congress. Regents are allowed reimbursement for their expenses in connection with attendance at meetings, but their service as regents is uncompensated. The day-to-day operations of the Smithsonian are supervised by a salaried "Secretary" chosen by the board of regents.

Secretaries of the Smithsonian

  1. Joseph Henry, 1846–1878
  2. Spencer Fullerton Baird, 1878–1887
  3. Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1887–1906
  4. Charles Doolittle Walcott, 1907–1927
  5. Charles Greeley Abbot, 1928–1944
  6. Alexander Wetmore, 1944–1952
  7. Leonard Carmichael, 1953–1964
  8. Sidney Dillon Ripley, 1964–1984
  9. Robert McCormick Adams, 1984–1994
  10. Ira Michael Heyman, 1994–1999
  11. Lawrence M. Small, 2000–2007
  12. Cristián Samper (Acting Secretary), 2007–2008
  13. G. Wayne Clough, 2008-

Cristián Samper is the first Latin American to hold the position. Born in Costa Rica, he was raised in Colombia from the age of one. He received his Bachelor's degree in Biology from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is one of the founders of the Von Humboldt Institute in Colombia, and since 2003 has been the director of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C..

Office of Protection Services (OPS)

The Smithsonian Office Of Protection Services oversees security at the Smithsonian Facilities. Federal Code authorizes the secretary of the Smithsonian to designate certain positions within the agency to have Special Police Status in order to permit the employee to enforce certain regulations within the Smithsonian facilities and grounds as well as areas of the National Capital Parks in D.C.

According to U.S Code title 40 Chpt 63 Sec.6306 Smithsonian staff who are designated as Special police "may, within the specified buildings and grounds, enforce,and make arrests for violations of, sections 6302 and 6303 of this title, any regulation prescribed under section 6304 of this title, federal or state law, or any regulation prescribed under federal or state law; and (2) may enforce concurrently with the United States Park Police the laws and regulations applicable to the National Capital Parks, and may make arrests for violations of sections 6302 and 6303 of this title, within the several areas located within the exterior boundaries of the face of the curb lines of the squares within which the specified buildings and grounds are located."

The Office of Protection Services has three Main positions within the division which are all U.S Government Positions:

Smithsonian Museum Protection Officers/Guards undergo three weeks of specialized training which includes firearm use, arrest procedures, handcuffing and OC Spray use and are assigned to one of 19 Smithsonian Museum or Research sites in New York City or the District of Columbia

Smithsonian Museum Physical Security Specialists and Supervisory Physical Security Specialists assist in overseeing the daily protection operations of the various Museum Sites. Each Specialist is assigned to a central division of OPS and has responsibilities for all Smithsonian sites.

Smithsonian Zoological Police Officers are assigned to the National Zoo owned by the Smithsonian in the District Of Columbia. Zoological officers receive specialized Police Officer training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)

Smithsonian museums

Washington, D.C.

New York, NY

Chantilly, VA

In addition, there are 156 museums that are Smithsonian affiliates.

Smithsonian research centers

The following is a list of Smithsonian research centers, with their affiliated museum in parentheses:


In 2003, a National Museum of Natural History exhibit, Subhankar Banerjee's "Seasons of Life and Land," featuring photographs of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was censored and moved to the basement by Smithsonian officials because they feared that its subject matter was too politically controversial.

The Smithsonian Institution has been criticised for strong copyright restrictions imposed on its image collections which overwhelmingly consist of public domain content dating to the 19th century. An image without a Smithsonian watermark and at a resolution suitable for publication requires an expensive licensing fee (unless covered under Fair Use provisions), manual approval by the Smithsonian staff, and the restriction of any further use without permission.

This conflicts with the institution's own policy in a 2005 memo, in which it asserted, "The Smithsonian cannot own copyright in works prepared by Smithsonian employees paid from federal funds", as well as the institution's own charter by the U.S. Congress to "increase and diffuse knowledge."

In April 2006, the institution entered into an agreement of "first refusal" rights for its vast silent and public domain film archives with Showtime Networks. Critics contend this agreement effectively gives Showtime control over the film archives, as it requires filmmakers to obtain permission from the network to use extensive amounts of film footage from the Smithsonian archives.

In November 2007 the Washington Post reported that internal criticism has been raised regarding the institution's handling of an exhibit on the Arctic. According to documents and emails, the exhibit and its associated presentation were edited at high levels to add "scientific uncertainty" regarding the nature and impact of global warming on the Arctic. Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Cristián Samper was interviewed by the Post and claimed that the exhibit was edited because it contained conclusions that went beyond what could be proven by contemporary climatology.


Further reading

  • Nina Burleigh, Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, The Smithsonian, HarperCollins, September 2003, hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 0-06-000241-7
  • Heather Ewing (2007). The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780747576532.

External links

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