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's Will Provokes Curiosity

New-York American
New-York American

When James Smithson died in 1829, press and public on both sides of the Atlantic were startled by the rather unusual provision in his will.

"We Find the Following Statement Respecting a Will . . ."

Transcript New-York American
January 26, 1830,

The press in Europe as well as the United States considered Smithson's bequest to the United States to be newsworthy even before the contingency clause became effective in 1835.

What Was Smithson Thinking?

James Smithson
James Smithson

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Did he feel his gift would have more impact on a young nation with only a few major educational and research institutions?

Did he hope to immortalize himself in the United States in reaction to opportunities denied him in Britain by his illegitimacy? (Smithson once wrote, "On my father's side I am a Northumberland, on my mother's I am related to kings, but this avails me not.")

Was he inspired by the tenets of many scientific societies of his day that held that civilization could achieve perfection through increased knowledge and public education?

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