The Smithsonian Institute was established in 1846 with funds left to the United States by James Smithson. While the institution named after James Smithson enjoys worldwide fame and distinction, very little is actually known about the man who left $508,318 to the people of the United States to found such an institution.
An English scientist who conducted research in the academic areas of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology, Smithson lived and traveled in several European countries. His schooling and interests afforded him the opportunity to mix with many noted scientists. Smithson was born in France in 1765. Named James Lewis Macie, he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, who later became the first Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie, a widow of royal blood. Smithson and his half brother Henry Louis Dickinson inherited a considerable amount of estate from their mother's family.
The Institute is an independent trust instrumentality of the United States, holding more that 140 million artifacts and specimens in its trust for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." The Institute is also a center for research dedicated to public education, national service, and scholarship in the arts, sciences, and history. Known to many American citizens and scholars and researchers around the world, the Smithsonian is truly one of the United States" greatest resources in the fields of research and conservation. .
Composed of 16 total museums and galleries, the Smithsonian Institute has centers, galleries, and museums in the United States and abroad. Many of the collections and exhibitions are located in our nation's capitol, Washington, D. C., on the National Mall. Nine Smithsonian museums are located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. Five other museums and the National Zoological Park are located elsewhere in Washington, D.