Graphical timeline from Smithson to Smithsonian
From Smithson to Smithsonian - The Birth of an InstitutionAll-American Compromise

Who Was James Smithson?
Sccepting Smithson's Gift
All-American Compromise
The Smithsonian Building
An Institution Emerges
A National Collection
Smithson's Legacy

The Smithsonian Institution Is Created! August 10, 1846

Surviving the Legislative Process
Senate Bill Hopper
Senate Bill Hopper


This U.S. Senate bill hopper offers clear evidence of how few bills actually became law. The upper shelves—which represent the final phases of legislative consideration—were built to accommodate the fewest bills.

Smithsonian Bill Becomes an Act

United States Senate Chamber
United States Senate Chamber

Bill proposals concerning the Smithsonian came from legislators, educators, and citizens from various walks of life. The final legislation included many of the ideas suggested during the decade of debate.

The compromise dropped the original idea of a national university. It specified that the Institution be faithful to Smithson's mandate for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge." The responsibility of interpreting and carrying out the legislation and Smithson's mandate fell to the Smithsonian's Secretary (or chief executive) and Board of Regents.

The bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution that President James K. Polk signed into law on August 10, 1846, represented ten years of negotiation and compromise.

Transcript "An Act to Establish the Smithsonian Institution," 1846

An Act to Establish the Smithsonian Institution
"An Act to Establish
the Smithsonian Institution"


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