The Smithsonian Celebrates 175 Years  

In 1846 — the year the Liberty Bell was cracked and James K. Polk was a president — a quintessential feature of our nation’s capital and of our young republic’s life of learning was born, The Smithsonian Institution. Today, it is the world’s largest museum, research and educational complex and we wish it a happy 175th birthday.  

The Smithsonian Institution began as a gift from Englishman James Smithson, to a place he never managed to make it to. Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, said Smithson’s grand bequeathment was an act of imagination and faith. 

Smithson was the illegitimate child of a wealthy Englishman who never made it across the Atlantic to visit the United States he admired from afar. According to the Smithsonian Institution’s website, he gave the entirety of his estate, which totaled a half million dollars (1/66 of the U.S.’s federal budget at the time). Some say Smithson decided to donate this money to a place unfamiliar to him because he was denied his father’s legacy. Others say he felt inspired by America’s “experiment with democracy.”  

Smithson, whose crypt now lies on the first floor the Smithsonian’s Castle, never wrote or spoke about what is today the world’s largest museum complex. The Smithsonian Institution encompasses 19 museums, nine research centers and The National Zoo. The institution worked tirelessly over the last year-and-a-half to allow guests to view exhibits virtually, or participate in museum talks or film screenings online.  

To celebrate the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary, the Arts and Industries Building is reopening for the first time in 20 years. The featured exhibit there will be FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall. It will be opening in November this year with many fascinating exhibits. Guests can smell a molecule, become an emoji, meditate with an artificial intelligence robot and more in the exhibit that asks people to dream big.  

Dreaming big is exactly what James Smithson did 175 years ago. Who knows what the next 175 years will have in store?  




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