- from Washington, D.C.
In 1835, the United States received some startling news. An Englishman named James Smithson, who had never set foot in the United States, had left half a million dollars to the country to establish the Smithsonian Institution.
His desire was “to increase . . . knowledge among men.” Three years later, 105 bags of gold coins arrived. The nation’s leaders were perplexed by the gift. They first debated whether to accept the money and then how to use it. Finally, in 1846 Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institution to be both a museum and a research organization. The first building was completed in 1852. Today the institution includes 19 museums, 17 of them in D.C. It also includes nine research centers and the National Zoo. A new museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is scheduled to open soon.
So many of the nation’s treasures are preserved in the Smithsonian museums that the institution has been called the Nation’s Attic.