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APPLETONS’

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JANUARY, 1896.



THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.

ITS ORIGIN. GROWTH, AND ACTIVITIES.

By Prof. HENRY CARRINGTON BOLTON, Ph. D.
PART I.—ORIGIN OF THE INSTITUTION.

WHEN the packet Mediator, commanded by Captain Christopher H. Champlin, sailed into New York harbor on the 28th day of August, 1838, after a stormy voyage of forty-three days from London, it brought in its hold a legacy from an Englishman to the United States of America, which was intended and destined to benefit all mankind. This precious freight consisted of eleven boxes, containing one hundred and five bags, each bag containing one thousand gold sovereigns. The boxes were carefully landed and stored for safe keeping in the Bank of America; a few days later the gold was sent to the United States Mint at Philadelphia, where it was immediately recoined into American money, yielding $508,318.46. This magnificent sum was the bequest of James Smithson, Esq., F. R. S., to the United States of America.

We propose in these articles to consider the purpose of this bequest, the manner in which the United States administers it, and the benefits to mankind accruing therefrom.

James Smithson was born in France, in the year 1765, of distinguished English parentage; as he himself wrote: "The best blood of England flows in my veins; on my father's side I am a Northumberlander, on my mother's I am related to kings."

Of Smithson's early life little is known. At Pembroke College, Oxford, the young man was an earnest student and showed a liking for scientific pursuits; he was especially proficient in chemistry, and spent his vacations in collecting ores and minerals