The Smithsonian Institution was established with the funds from James Smithson. He was a British scientist that left his estate to the United States with his last will stating that “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” He was an illegitimate child of a wealthy Englishman. He traveled in different countries but was never able to set foot on the American soil. Therefore, it was a huge mystery why he left his sizable estate, which is worth half a million dollars, to a country that is unknown to him. There are several speculations to his reasons. Some say that it was because he was denied of his father’s legacy. Some say that he was inspired by the United States’ experiment with democracy. Some attribute his philanthropy was inspired by the Royal Institution that was dedicated in using scientific knowledge to improve human’s conditions. But in reality, he never wrote or discussed this to anyone. Therefore, people were left with their own speculations. This gift had a significant impact on the arts, humanities, and sciences in the United States. His remains were located on the first floor of the Smithsonian Castle, where visitors can pay homage to his crypt.
Smithsonian died in 1829, but only six years later that then President Andrew Jackson announced the donation to the Congress. On July 1, 1836, the Congress accepted the legacy donated to the nation and pledged the faith of the US to the charitable trust. Richard Rush, the American diplomat, was dispatched to England to collect the donation in August 1838. He returned with 105 sacks containing more than 100,000 gold sovereigns that were delivered at Philadelphia. It was recoined in US currency, which amounted to more than $500,000 at that time, which is now equivalent to more than $11 million. After eight years of heated debate, an Act of Congress was signed by President James K. Polk on August 10, 1846 that established the Smithsonian Institution. Since its foundation for more than 164 years ago, it has become the world’s largest museum and research complex. Currently, it has 19 museums, a National Zoo, and nine research facilities.