By definition, an institution is an established law, practice, organization, foundation, society or custom. On this day in 1846, President James K. Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act into law.
But did you know that the Smithsonian Institution was created by a curious British benefactor who had NEVER VISITED THE UNITED STATES?
That’s right. James Smithson, an English scientist, (a type of zinc carbonite was named Smithsonite in his honor) left a peculiar footnote in his will that in the event that his only nephew died without any heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go 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.”
Today, more than 154 million items, from the profound to the obscure, from tasteful to gaudy, from seemingly worthless to priceless, from ancient to modern, these eclectic artifacts are held on display in the Smithsonian Institution buildings, also nicknamed “America’s attic” appropriately. They are a collection of museums, research centers, historical and architectural landmarks and a zoo, mostly located in around the District of Columbia, America’s capital.
Among the most popular items on display within the walls of the Smithsonian Institution buildings are the Hope Diamond, Betsy’s Ross’s original American flag, a mummified Egyptian cat, a real man who turned into a soap mummy, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers, dinosaur dung, astronaut boots, hissing cockroaches, a crystal skull, the original crash test dummies, loads of taxidermy animals, a star trek phaser, NASA’s bubble-boy suit, an Elvis Presley guitar and the list goes on and on and on.
An incredible institution to honor and cherish indeed.