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

A Man of Science

"Every man is a valuable member of society who
by his observations, researches, and experiments
procures knowledge for men."
óJames Smithson

A Chemical Analysis of Some Calamines
"A Chemical Analysis of
Some Calamines"

Smithson's Publications

Smithson published at least 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy in scientific journals. His topics included the chemical content of a lady's teardrop, the crystalline form of ice, and an improved method of making coffee.

Transcript James Smithson, "A Chemical
Analysis of Some Calamines,"

from Philosophical Transactions
of the Royal Society of London
, 1803

Smithson's Research


Mineralogical goniometer
Mineralogical goniometer

In 1802 Smithson overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, not zinc oxides. One calamine (a type of zinc carbonate) was renamed smithsonite posthumously in Smithson's honor in 1832. Smithsonite was a principal source of zinc until the 1880s.

Volumes from Smithson's personal library
Volumes from Smithson's
personal library


Luckily, all 213 volumes from Smithson's personal library, as well as a few of his writings, survived a devastating fire in the Smithsonian Building in 1865.

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