Thursday, August 10, 2017

August 10, 1846 – The Smithsonian Institution is chartered by the United States Congress after English chemist and mineralogist James Smithson donates $500,000 in his will.

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A Brief History of the Smithsonian Institution:

1829 - British scientist James Smithson dies and leaves his wealth to nephew Henry James Hungerford.

1835 - Hungerford dies childless. Under the terms of Smithson's will, the estate is now donated to the United States of America to establish an institution for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge". The will requires the organization to be called the Smithsonian Institution.

1838 - American diplomat Richard Rush returns from England with 105 sacks containing 104,960 gold sovereigns (about $11.13 million in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars).

1838 to 1846 - Congress haggles over how to interpret Smithson's will.

1841 - Arkansas defaults on its bonds. The Smithson legacy had been invested in the state's bonds, and is utterly lost.

1846 - Representative (and ex-President) John Quincy Adams persuades Congress to restore the lost funds with interest. He also convinces Congress to found a national museum of science and learning. The Smithsonian Institution is established in August.

1849 - Construction begins on the Smithsonian Institution Building ("the Castle").

1855 - The Smithsonian "Castle" opens.

1881 - The first expansion building, the Arts and Industries Building, opens. Congress had promised to build a new structure for the museum if the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition generated enough profit. It did.

1889 - The National Zoological Park opens in Rock Creek Park.

1911 - The National Museum of Natural History opens on the National Mall.

1923 - The Freer Gallery opens on the National Mall. The art and building were donated by Detroit philanthropist Charles Lang Freer.

1964 - The Museum of History and Technology (renamed the National Museum of American History in 1980) opens on the National Mall.

1967 - The Anacostia Community Museum, an "experimental store-front" museum created at the initiative of Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, opens in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It is the first Smithsonian museum (not zoo) to open away from the National Mall.

1967 - The Smithsonian agrees to take over the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration (now the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) after the Cooper Union nearly closes for lack of money. This becomes the Smithsonian's first museum not located in Washington, D.C.

1968 - The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum open in the Old Patent Office Building (built in 1867).

1972 - The Renwick Gallery opens near the White House. The building was constructed in 1874 to house the art collection of local philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran. The art collection later moved into the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The Renwick opened to house the Smithsonian's huge arts and crafts collection.

1974 - The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opens. This is the first Smithsonian museum to collect Modern Art. Uranium mining official Joseph H. Hirshhorn donates his huge collection of classic French Impressionism and American modernism and donates $1 million toward the building's construction.

1976 - The National Air and Space Museum opens.

1987 - The National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery opened in a new, joint, underground museum between the Freer Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle. The Smithsonian acquired the Museum of African Art from former Foreign Service diplomat Warren Robbins, who had previously run the museum out of the Frederick Douglass House. The Sackler Gallery was a joint effort by the government of Japan, which donated $1 million to construct a Smithsonian museum dedicated to Asian art, and Dr. Arthur Sackler, a psychiatrist and major collector of Asian art.

1993 - The National Postal Museum opens in the former City Post Office (1904) near Union Station in Washington, D.C.

2004 - The National Museum of the American Indian opens. The Smithsonian agreed to open the museum after settling a lawsuit over its collection of Native American remains.

2016 - The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens. The museum was the result of decades-long discrimination by the Smithsonian against African American researchers, historians, curators, janitors, secretaries, and other staff. The Smithsonian had pledged to stop the discrimination, and then failed. The Smithsonian agreed that the only way to stop institutional racism within the organization was to build a museum of equal standing with other museums.

NOTE: The National Gallery of Art (est. in 1937) and the United States Holocaust Museum (est. 1993) are not part of the Smithsonian.

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