Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/329

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
323
THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.[1]

"THE advancement of the highest interests of national science and learning and the custody of objects of art and of the valuable results of scientific expeditions conducted by the United States have been committed to the Smithsonian Institution. In furtherance of its declared purpose—for the 'increase and diffusion of knowledge among men'—the congress has from time to time given it other important functions. Such trusts have been executed by the institution with notable fidelity. There should be no halt in the work of the institution, in accordance with the plans which its secretary has presented, for the preservation of the vanishing races of great North American animals in the National Zoological Park. The urgent needs of the National Museum are recommended to the favorable consideration of the congress." (President Roosevelt's first message to Congress.)

In the first Smithsonian report issued in the twentieth century it may not be amiss to tell the readers of this volume very briefly what the institution is, how it came into being, and how it has fulfilled the purposes for which it was established.

In the popular mind the Smithsonian Institution is a picturesque castellated building of brown stone, situated in a beautiful park at Washington, containing birds and shells and beasts and many other things, with another large adjacent building, often called the Smithsonian National Museum. The institution is likewise supposed to have a large corps of learned men, all of whom are called 'professors' (which they are not), whose time is spent in writing books and making experiments and answering all kinds of questions concerning the things in the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth.

Contrast this popular notion with the facts. The Smithsonian Institution is an 'establishment' created by an act of congress which owes its origin to the bequest of James Smithson, an Englishman, a scientific man, and at one time a vice-president of the Royal Society, who died in Genoa in 1829, leaving his entire estate 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 among men.'


  1. This article is reprinted from the recent report of the Smithsonian Institution. We have pleasure in reproducing the official account of the foundation and activities of the institution, as we have had occasion to criticize its present management.