- from Washington, D.C.
In 1835, the United States got some amazing news. James Smithson of England had given the U.S. half a million dollars. He had never even set foot here. So why did he give us the money?
He wanted the U.S. to set up a Smithsonian Institution “to increase . . . knowledge among men.” Three years later, 105 bags of gold coins arrived. The nation’s leaders were confused. First they argued about whether to take the money. Then they couldn’t decide how to use it. Finally, Congress passed an act in 1846. This set up the Smithsonian Institution to be a museum and a research organization. Its first building was completed in 1852. Today the Smithsonian includes 19 museums. Seventeen are in Washington, D.C., There are also nine research centers and the National Zoo. The newest addition is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s set to open soon.
The Smithsonian has been called the Nation’s Attic. That’s because its museums contain so many national treasures.