Who Is the Smithsonian Institution Named for?

Established in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is named for British scientist James Smithson. Born in France but naturalized in England at an early age, Smithson graduated from Pembroke College in Oxford in 1786. The Smithsonian was established thanks to a bequest of Smithson’s entire estate, including the collections that he had amassed during his lifetime.

More facts about the Smithsonian Institution:

  • No one knows why Smithson chose to provide the bequest for the establishment of the institution in the United States, which he never visited while he was alive — although his remains are entombed at the Smithsonian. One school of thought holds that Smithson was intrigued by the American experiment with democracy and felt that providing the basis for the institution would achieve the goal of promoting "the increase and diffusion of knowledge” that he mentioned in the terms of his bequest.

  • The Smithsonian is a large complex that is home to 19 different museums. The complex also includes nine research centers.

  • Visitors to the Smithsonian are welcomed every day of the year but one. The complex is closed on 25 December each year for Christmas Day.

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