One of the questions most frequently asked of anyone with a badge on the National Mall is "Where is the Smithsonian?" Many visitors assume that the Smithsonian is a single building where they can see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Ruby Slippers, and the Hope Diamond all under one roof.
The often confusing reality is that the Smithsonian is actually made up of 19 museums, the National Zoo, and 9 research centers. Many of the museums are along the National Mall, but others are scattered around Washington, DC and the surrounding region. There are even two Smithsonian museums in New York City and research facilities in locations as diverse as Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona, Panama, and Belize.
To address the question at the beginning of this post, the Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center (now the Office of Visitor Services) published a flyer in March 1985 encouraging visitors to stop by the Smithsonian Institution Building (better known as "The Castle") for an orientation. The flyer – appropriately titled "Where is the Smithsonian?" – is illustrated with a frazzled woman attempting to find her way while dealing with two impatient children. On the back is a map of the museums along or near the National Mall.
The flyer was updated several times during the 1980s. Today, the Castle is still the place to go for an in-person orientation, but many visitors go to the Smithsonian's website to plan their trips. And for those who want that modern equivalent to carrying around a map, there's an app for that.
- Accession 14-034 - Office of Visitor Services, Publications, 1959, 1973-2013, Smithsonian Institution Archives