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

Smithson Leaves Bequest
to the United States

James Smithson's tomb
James Smithson's tomb in Italy


Smithson's Death

James Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 27, 1829, at the age of 64, after a long illness. 75 years later, Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell brought Smithson's remains to Washington, where they were interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building.

Smithson's will in his own hand, 1826
Smithson's will in his own hand, 1826

Smithson's will left the bulk of his estate to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford. But should his nephew die without children—legitimate or illegitimate—a contingency clause stated that the estate would go to "the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…"
Transcript Draft version of
Smithson's will

in his own hand, 1826
Plain Advice to the Public
Plain Advice to the Public…


When Smithson's nephew died in 1835 without any heirs, the founding of the Smithsonian Institution—and a rousing national debate—were set in motion.

Smithson did not explain his bequest in his public or private writings.

Smithson's motives in leaving money to the United States are unknown. He drafted his own will following the guidance in this book.

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