Since its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian has collected and maintained a diverse body of objects that reflects the nation's intellectual awakening and growing interest in exploring and understanding the universe. These activities fulfill the mandate of the Smithsonian's founder, James Smithson (1765-1829), an English gentleman scientist.
For reasons that have never been known, Smithson in 1826 willed his estate to the United States, which he had never visited, "to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Through its research, study, analysis, and interpretation (the "increase") and publications, exhibitions, and educational programs (the "diffusion"), the Smithsonian contributes substantially to our nation's cultural and scientific heritage.
Complementing the Smithsonian collections is a library system that meets the needs of staff and public alike. Manuscripts, books, and other printed materials provide a strong foundation for all of the Institution's enterprises and for outside scholars and visitors. Scientists, curators, education specialists, and designers refer to primary sources daily, for inspiration and information. As materials once collected for research and display grow more valuable with age, the Smithsonian Libraries has become a treasure house of rare books, manuscripts, and artifacts.