Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/331

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THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION.

Smithson's money, which amounted to over half a million dollars, and later to three quarters of a million, a great fortune in that day of small things, was deposited in the United States Treasury, the government afterwards agreeing to pay perpetually six per cent, interest upon it.

In the fundamental act creating the institution, congress, as above stated, provided that the President and the members of his cabinet should be members of the institution, that is, should be the institution itself, but that nevertheless it should be governed by a board of regents, composed of the Vice-President and Chief Justice of the United States, three regents to be appointed by the president of the senate (ordinarily the vice-president), three by the speaker of the house of representatives, and six to be selected by congress; two of whom should be residents of the District of Columbia, and the other four from different states, no two being from the same state. The fundamental act further provides that the secretary of the institution already defined shall also be secretary of the board of regents. The museum is primarily to contain objects of art and of foreign and curious research; next, objects of natural history, plants, and geological and mineralogical specimens belonging to the United States. Provision is also made for a library, and the functions of the regents and of the secretary were denned.

The preamble of this bill states that congress has received the property of Smithson and provided 'for the faithful execution of said trust agreeable to the will of the liberal and enlightened donor.' It will thus be seen that the relations of the general government to the Smithsonian Institution are most extraordinary, one may even say unique, since the United States solemnly bound itself to the administration of a trust. Probably never before has any ward found so powerful a guardian.

The first meeting of the regents occurred on September 7, 1846, and in the autumn of the same year they elected as secretary Joseph Henry, then a professor at Princeton, known for his extraordinary experiments on the electromagnet, and other subjects relating to electricity. Under his guidance the institution took shape. Its work at first consisted, in the main, of the publication of original memoirs, containing actual contributions to knowledge, and their free distribution to important libraries throughout the world; to giving popular lectures in Washington, publishing them, and distributing them to libraries and individuals; stimulating scientific work by providing apparatus and by making grants of money to worthy investigators, cooperating with other government departments in the advancement of work useful to the general government, etc. These were the principal methods employed by Henry to carry out the purposes of Smithson, for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Here, too, were initiated certain studies which