Page images




1. Origin and Mission

James Smithson, of England, a graduate of Oxford University, Master of Arts, Fellow of the Royal Society, a chemist and mineralogist, made his will in 1826 bequeathing his estate to the “United States of America to found at Washington under the name of the Smithsonian Institution” an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men. He died in Italy in 1829. In July, 1835, the Secretary of State was officially informed of the bequest, and on December 27 President Andrew Jackson communicated the papers to Congress. The message of the President was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and to a select committee of the House of Representatives. After deliberate discussion of the authority and propriety of the United States government to accept such a trust for the purpose stated, Congress authorized the President to assert and prosecute with effect the claim of the United States to the Smithson legacy, and Mr. Richard Rush was appointed agent of the United States for that purpose. The bequest, amounting to $508,318.46, was reported, on December 3, 1838, by the Secretary of the Treasury, as paid into the Treasury of the United States.?

On December 6, 1838, President Van Buren invited congressional attention to the obligation devolving upon the United States to fulfill the object of the Smithson bequest. The subject was under consideration in the Senate and House for eight years, resulting in the founding of the Institution by an act of Congress, and by law the Smithsonian fund was made perpetually entitled to an annual income of 6 per cent. interest, and definite resources were thus assured for carrying out the purposes and objects of the founder of the trust.

In discussing the acceptance of the Smithson bequest in 1836, John Quincy Adams, in the House of Representatives, said:

“Of all the foundations of establishments for pious or charitable uses, which ever signalized the spirit of the age, or the comprehensive beneficence of the founder, none can be named more deserving of the approbation of mankind than this. Should it be faithfully carried into effect, with an earnestness and sagacity of application, and a steady perseverance of pursuit, proportioned to the means furnished by the will of the founder and to the greatness and simplicity of his design as by himself declared 'the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,' it is no extravagance of anticipation to declare that his name will be hereafter enrolled among the eminent benefactors of mankind.?

"The Smithsonian plan of organization embraces the two objects named by the testator: One, the increase of knowledge by the addition of new truths to the existing stock; the other, the diffusion of knowledge, thus increased, among men. No restriction is made in favor of any kind of knowledge, and hence each branch is entitled to and receives a share of attention.” ? 2. History

1 Act of July 1, 1836 (5 Stat. 64).

2 Administration and Activities of the Smithsonian Institution, by A. Howard Clark, 1917 (publication No. 2450 of the Smithsonian Institution). 3 Act Aug. 10, 1846, c. 178 (9 Stat. 102).

Other bequests and gifts have come to the Institution from various benefactors, varying in amounts from a quarter of a million to a thousand dollars or less, until the total invested permanent fund now aggregates more than a million dollars, and is gradually increasing from year to year.

“Among the more than 150 eminent Americans who have guided Smithsonian activities in past years may be mentioned Louis Agassiz, the naturalist; Alexander Dallas Bache; George Bancroft, the historian; Salmon Portland Chase ; Rufus Choate; James Dwight Dana, the eminent geologist and mineralogist; Asa Gray, the botanist; Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, engineer; President Noah Porter, of Yale University; Lieut. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman; and many other men prominent in science and art and in public affairs in more recent years, who are still active as regents or patrons, or otherwise vitally interested in the work at the Institution.” 2

"The Institution is practically the parent of many of the scientific bureaus of the government. Here were begun researches in astronomy, physics, meteorology, geology, botany, fisheries, aviation, and other lines, some of which, having outgrown facilities and means immediately available to the Institution, have been developed into separate government bureaus, including the United States Weather Bureau, the United States Geological Survey, the Fisheries Bureau, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and other federal bureaus," ? with all of which the institution continues in close and constant co-operation. To some of these bureaus now belong the more economic phases of scientific work, while the Institution devotes its energies largely to the fundamental work, researches in the domain of pure science, keeping in view, however, the bearing of these researches on the welfare of mankind.?

Joseph Henry, Secretary of the Institution, 1846 to 1878, eminent as a physicist, contributed to science the intensity magnet which is to-day in use in every telegraph system. His name is perpetuated in the term “henry,” the unit of electric inductance.

"Henry also inaugurated the system of daily meteorological observations, out of which grew the United States Weather Bureau, and, as head of the Lighthouse Board, he revolutionized the methods of lighthouse operation and signaling."

Spencer Fullerton Baird, a biologist, during his administration as Secretary from 1878 to 1887, established the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, now known as the Bureau of Fisheries, for the study of food fishes and river and ocean fauna, and under his direction the Museum building was erected for the exhibition of the valuable collections acquired from the International Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876.

Samuel Pierpont Langley, Secretary from 1887 to 1906, was the first to demonstrate to the world, in 1896, the practicability of mechanical flight with machines

" 2

2 Administration and Activities of the Smithsonian Institution, by A. Howard Clark, 1917 (publication No. 2450 of the Smithsonian Institution).


heavier than the air, sustained and propelled by their own power, and he later developed and built the first man-carrying aeroplane capable of sustained free flight. He devised the bolometer, or electrical thermometer, by which changes of temperature of less than the hundred-millionth of a degree Centigrade are measured, and by special installation differences in temperature amounting to onebillionth of a degree can be detected. During his administration, the National Zoological Park was founded, and during this period there was begun the erection of the present great structure for the natural history collection of the National Museum.

During the present administration, under Charles Doolittle Walcott, the natural history and fine arts collections have been developed. He was largely instrumental in the establishment by Congress of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, having as one of its primary objects the bringing into close co-ordination of the Army and Navy and other branches of the government, and private interests engaged in various lines of aeronautical research.

The Institution has been especially identified with scientific exploration of regions imperfectly known, particularly in North America, as well as with the geological work of the Mexican Boundary Survey, the Colorado expeditions of Lieut. Ives, explorations to the Yellowstone, and many expeditions and explorations in Alaska, in the Arctic, in Africa, in Siberia, in South. America, in China, and in Tibet.

It has brought together the great National Herbarium of more than 1,000,000 specimens of the flora of the United States and foreign lands.

In 1891, Thomas G. Hodgkins, of Setauket, N. Y., presented $200,000 to the Institution, stipulating that the income of $100,000 of his gift should be devoted to the increase and diffusion of more exact knowledge in regard to the nature and properties of atmospheric air in connection with the welfare of man.

The Hodgkins gold medal was established by the Smithsonian Institution, to be awarded for important contributions to the knowledge of the nature and properties of atmospheric air, or for practical applications of existing knowledge to the welfare of mankind.

The Langley medal was established in memory of the late Secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley and his contributions to the science of aerodromics, "to be awarded for specially meritorious investigations in connection with the science of aerodromics and its application to aviation."

In 1846 the Smithsonian Institution was made the custodian of the national collections in both nature and art, and the Museum branch was definitely organized in 1850, under the title “United States National Museum,” which was authorized by Congress in 1875.4 During the first few years expenses of the Museum were wholly met from the Smithsonian fund, and it was not until 1878 that the government began to provide entirely for its maintenance, this being done through annual appropriations by Congress.

The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842, the Perry Expedition to Japan, the North Pacific Exploring Expedition of the Navy, the rail


3 Act Aug. 10, 1846, c. 178 (9 Stat. 102). 4 Act March 3, 1875, c. 130 (18 Stat. 387).


road and wagon road surveys by the Army in connection with the opening of the Far West, the Canadian and Mexican boundary surveys, certain geological explorations, and the work of the coast survey in Alaskan waters made early important contributions to the Museum, as more recently the Bureau of Fisheries, the Geological Survey, and several bureaus of the Department of Agriculture.

The National Museum has not overlooked the importance of a department of technology, and in its Museum of Industrial Arts the exhibits are so selected and so installed as to teach visitors how, and of what, things are made, so as to stimulate inventive skill and advance every art industry.

The foundation of a National Gallery of Art was contemplated and directed in the act of organization of the Institution in 1846 3 and in the prograrn of operation adopted by the Board of Regents in 1847. It was several years, however, before the gallery was in active operation. It was early greatly aided by bequests of Harriet Lane Johnston and William T. Evans, and later by the munificent donation by Charles L. Freer of his collection, which, with the provision for its preservation, is unsurpassed in this country, and is one of the most notable gifts of its character in the world's history.

The original collection consisted of about 2,300 paintings and other objects of art, and has since been increased to 5,346 items, including American paintings and sculptures, the Whistler collection, and oriental paintings, pottery, bronzes, and jades from China, Korea, Japan, and other Asiatic countries.

In 1890 the Congress set apart 167 acres in the beautiful Rock Creek Valley, on the northwestern borders of Washington City, as the National Zoological Park, which was founded "for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people," and Congress placed its administration in the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution.5

The Astrophysical Observatory was founded in 1890 to investigate solar radiation and, in general, solar phenomena.6 3. Activities

(a) The activities of the Institution embrace all branches of natural science, the fine arts, and industrial arts. Since its establishment the Institution has inaugurated and maintained, or has participated in, a great number of astronomical, anthropological, biological, and geological expeditions and explorations in every portion of the world, resulting in largely increasing our knowledge of the geography, the meteorology, the fauna and flora, and the ethnology of all lands, and in the acquisition of a vast amount of valuable material for the National Museum.?

The members of its scientific staff and its many collaborators are constantly engaged in investigations in which students of science in all its branches participate.

The Institution aids investigators by making limited grants, for research and exploration. It advises the government in matters of scientific importance. It co-operates with all departments of the government and with many scientific and historical national organizations.

2 Administrati and Activities of the Smithsonian Institution, by A. Howard Clark, 1917 (publication No. 2450 of the Smithsonian Institution).

3 Act Aug. 10, 1846, c. 178 (9 Stat. 102).
5 Act April 30, 1890, c. 173, § 2 (26 Stat. 78 (Comp. St. § 10588]).
6 Act March 3, 1891, c. 542 (26 Stat. 963).

(b) It accomplishes its mission in the “diffusion of knowledge,” which, next to its "increase," was so prominently in the mind of the founder of the Institution, by a system of several series of publications constituting original contributions to knowledge, accounts of scientific explorations and investigations, and papers recording the annual progress in the field of science, which are distributed gratuitously to important libraries throughout the world.

The complete collection of Smithsonian publications numbers about 450 volumes, aggregating more than 200,000 printed pages.

(c) The accumulation of a scientific library has been an important phase of the Institution's work in the "diffusion of knowledge," and the collection has increased in size from year to year, until at present it numbers well over half a million titles. The main Smithsonian library is assembled in the Library of Congress, and is known as the Smithsonian deposit. This collection consists chiefly of transactions and memoirs of learned institutions and scientific societies and periodicals relating to science in general, brought together from all parts of the world on a systematic plan since the middle of the last century. The National Museum and the Bureau of American Ethnology also maintain large special libraries, and there are libraries connected with the Astrophysical Observatory and the National Zoological Park, besides some 35 specialized sectional collections, located in various offices, for the use of the scientific staff of the Institution and its branches. The Smithsonian office library contains a collection of books relating to art, the employees' library, and an extensive aeronautical library.

(d) The Smithsonian Institution directs the work of the United States Bureau of the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, which is one of 33 regional bureaus in various countries engaged in the collecting, indexing, and classifying of scientific publications of the year. The classified references are forwarded to the central bureau in London, where they are collated and published in a series of 17 annual volumes covering each branch of science and aggregating about 8,000 printed pages. These volumes are sold at an annual subscription price of $85, chiefly to large reference libraries and important scientific institutions, the proceeds covering in part the cost of publication.

(e) In the United States National Museum 8 four general divisions are recognized: (1) Natural history, including ethnology and archæology; (2) the fine arts; (3) the industrial arts; (4) history.

(f) The National Gallery of Art.-(See under "History," supra.)

(g) The Freer Gallery of Art, which is a unit of the National Gallery.—(See under "History," supra.)

(h) Bureau of American Ethnology.-A vast amount of linguistic and bibliographical information relative to the American Indians has been published by the bureau, and great collections of ethnological material have been gathered for the anthropological department of the museum.


7 R. S. $ 5587 (Comp. St. & 10579). 8 Act March 3, 1879, c. 182 (20 Stat. 397).

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »