Graphical timeline from Smithson to Smithsonian
From Smithson to Smithsonian - The Birth of an InstitutionWho Was James Smithson?

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

James Smithson
The Man Behind the Institution

While the institution named after James Smithson enjoys worldwide renown, we know little about the man who left $508,318 to the people of the United States to found such an institution.

James Smithson
James Smithson

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An English scientist who conducted research in 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 estate from their mother's family.


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