The Smithsonian Institution ( ), established on August 10, 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge", is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States. The institution is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson. Originally organized as the "United States National Museum", that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967.
Termed "the nation's attic"
for its eclectic holdings of 154 million items, the Institution's nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo include historical and architectural landmarks, mostly located in the District of Columbia.
The Institution's thirty million annual visitors are admitted without charge. Its annual budget is around $1.2 billion with 2/3 coming from annual federal appropriations. Other funding comes from the Institution's endowment, private and corporate contributions, membership dues, and earned retail, concession, and licensing revenue. Institution publications include Smithsonian and Air & Space magazines.
The British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829) left most of his wealth to his nephew Henry James Hungerford. When Hungerford died childless in 1835, the estate passed "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men", in accordance with Smithson's will. Congress officially accepted the legacy bequeathed to the nation, and pledged the faith of the United States to the charitable trust on July 1, 1836. The American diplomat Richard Rush was dispatched to England by President Andrew Jackson to collect the bequest. Rush returned in August 1838 with 105 sacks containing 104,960 (about $500,000 at the time, which is ).Heather Ewing, The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian, pp. 323–24, 330, 409. Ewing notes that it would be the equivalent of over $10 million today, using one index, but using a per-capita share of GDP, it would be the equivalent of over $220 million. It was close to the total of Harvard University's endowment at that point, which had accumulated for nearly 200 years by the 1830s and was not the result of a single gift, as Smithson's was.
Once the money was in hand, eight years of Congressional haggling ensued over how to interpret Smithson's rather vague mandate "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Unfortunately, the money was invested by the US Treasury in bonds issued by the state of Arkansas which soon defaulted. After heated debate, Massachusetts Representative (and ex-President) John Quincy Adams persuaded Congress to restore the lost funds with interest"Smithsonian Information Brochure", Smithsonian Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center, May 2009 and, despite designs on the money for other purposes, convinced his colleagues to preserve it for an institution of science and learning.Nagel, Paul (1999). "John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life". Harvard University Press. p. 348. Finally, on August 10, 1846, President James K. Polk signed the legislation that established the Smithsonian Institution as a trust instrumentality of the United States, to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.
In 1846, the regents developed a plan for weather observation; in 1847, money was appropriated for meteorological research. The Institution became a magnet for young scientists from 1857 to 1866, who formed a group called the Megatherium Club.
The National Zoological Park opened in 1889 to accommodate the Smithsonian's Department of Living Animals. The National Museum of Natural History opened in June 1911 to similarly accommodate the Smithsonian's United States National Museum, which had previously been housed in the Castle and then the Arts and Industries Building. This structure was designed by the D.C. architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall."New Museum Plans." Washington Post. April 13, 1903.
When Detroit philanthropist Charles Lang Freer donated his private collection to the Smithsonian and funds to build the museum to hold it (which was named the Freer Gallery), it was among the Smithsonian's first major donations from a private individual.
The National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian's largest in terms of floor space, opened in June 1976. Eleven years later, the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery opened in a new, joint, underground museum between the Freer Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle. Reuse of another old building came in 1993 with the opening of the National Postal Museum in the 1904 former City Post Office building off the Mall.
In 2004, the Smithsonian opened the National Museum of the American Indian in a new building near the United States Capitol. Twelve years later, almost to the day, it opened its latest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in a new building near the Washington Monument.
Nineteen museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoological Park, comprise the Smithsonian museums. Facts about the Smithsonian Institution. newsdesk.si.edu (Pressroom of the Smithsonian Institution). Retrieved February 19, 2011 Eleven are on the National Mall, the park that runs between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. Other museums are located elsewhere in Washington, D.C., with two more in New York City and one in Chantilly, Virginia.
The Smithsonian has close ties with 168 other museums in 39 states, Panama, and Puerto Rico. These museums are known as Smithsonian Affiliated museums. Collections of artifacts are given to these museums in the form of long-term loans. The Smithsonian also has a large number of traveling exhibitions. In 2008, 58 of these traveling exhibitions went to 510 venues across the country.
The Smithsonian Institution announced in January 2015 that it is in talks to build its first permanent overseas exhibition space within London's Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park.
The Smithsonian Institution has many categories of displays that can be visited at the museums. In 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft donated her inauguration gown to the museum to begin the First Ladies' Gown display, one of the Smithsonian's most popular exhibits. The museum displays treasures such as the Star-Spangled Banner, the stove pipe hat that was worn by President Lincoln, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz, and the original Teddy Bear that was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. In 2016, the Smithsonian's Air & Space museum curators restored the large model Enterprise from the original TV series.
Also of note is the Smithsonian Museum Support Center (MSC), located in Silver Hill, Maryland (Suitland), which is the principal off-site conservation and collections facility for multiple Smithsonian museums, primarily the National Museum of Natural History. The MSC was dedicated in May 1983. The MSC covers of land, with over of space, making it one of the largest set of structures in the Smithsonian. It has over of cabinets, and more than 31 million objects.
According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, when former Latino Center executive director Pilar O'Leary first took the job, the center faced employees who had "serious performance issues". No performance plans existed for the staff and unfulfilled financial obligations to sponsors existed. The website's quality was poor, and the center did not have a public affairs manager, a programs director, adequate human resources support, or cohesive mission statement.
After difficult times in the first few years, the center improved. According to the Smithsonian, the center "supports scholarly research, exhibitions, public and educational programs, web-based content and virtual platforms, and collections and archives. It also manages leadership and professional development programs for Latino youth, emerging scholars and museum professionals." Today, the website features a high-tech virtual museum.
Students selected for the program travel to Washington, D.C. for an "enrichment seminar" that lasts approximately five days. Afterwards, students return to their communities to serve in a paid, one-month internship.
Pilar O'Leary launched the program when she served as executive director of the Smithsonian Latino Center. According to the Latino Center, O'Leary told the press in 2007: "Our goal is to help our Young Ambassadors become the next generation of leaders in the arts and culture fields. This program encourages students to be proud of their roots and learn more about their cultural heritage to inspire them to educate the public in their own communities about how Latinos are enriching America's cultural fabric."
The President's 2011 budget proposed just under $800 million in support for the Smithsonian, slightly increased from previous years. Institution exhibits are free of charge, though in 2010 the Deficit Commission recommended admission fees.
As approved by Congress on August 10, 1846, the legislation that created the Smithsonian Institution called for the creation of a Board of Regents to govern and administer the organization. This 17-member board meets at least four times a year and includes as ex officio members the Chief Justice of the United States and the Vice President of the United States. The nominal head of the Institution is the Chancellor, an office which has traditionally been held by the Chief Justice. In September 2007, the board created the position of Chair of the Board of Regents, a position currently held by John W. McCarter of Illinois.
Other members of the Board of Regents are three members of the U.S. House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House; three members of the Senate, appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate; and nine citizen members, nominated by the board and approved by the Congress in a joint resolution signed by the President of the United States. Smithsonian Press Kit Regents who are senators or representatives serve for the duration of their elected terms, while citizen Regents serve a maximum of two six-year terms. Regents are compensated on a part-time basis.
The chief executive officer (CEO) of the Smithsonian is the Secretary, who is appointed by the Board of Regents. The Secretary also serves as secretary to the Board of Regents, but is not a voting member of that body. The Secretary of the Smithsonian has the privilege of the floor at the United States Senate. There have been 12 Secretaries. On September 18, 2013, Secretary G. Wayne Clough announced he would retire in October 2014. The Smithsonian Board of Regents said it has asked regent John McCarter, Jr. to lead a search committee. The search committee will consist of other regents and representatives from Smithsonian museums and centers. Cooper, Rebecca. "Smithsonian Chief Will Retire in 2014." Washington Business Journal. September 18, 2013. Accessed September 18, 2013.
On March 10, 2014, the Smithsonian Board of Directors selected Dr. David Skorton, a physician and president of Cornell University as the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. Skorton took the reins of the institution on 1 July 2015. Parker, Lonnae O'Neal Parker and Boyle, Katherine. "Smithsonian Institution Names Cornell President As Its 13th Secretary." Washington Post. March 10, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2014.
In November 2007, The Washington Post reported internal criticism has been raised regarding the institution's handling of the exhibit on the Arctic. According to documents and e-mails, 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 the exhibit was edited because it contained conclusions that went beyond what could be proven by contemporary climatology. The Smithsonian is now a participant in the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
In April 2006, the institution entered into an agreement of "first refusal" rights for its vast silent film and public domain film archives with Showtime Networks, mainly for use on the Smithsonian Channel, a network created from this deal. 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.
The Smithsonian contends independent producers continue to have unchanged access to the institution and its collections as they had prior to the agreement. The process to gain access to film at the Smithsonian remains the same. Since January 2006, independent producers have made more than 500 requests to film in the museums and collections or to use archival footage and photos.