Mr. Smithson's Big Idea

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Ostensibly work attempts to dispel images of Smithsonian as a junkyard and "Uncle Sam's Attic" by focusing on SI's mandate for "pure" science. Lists some of the collections held at the SI in 1946 and gives a brief history of the Institution including, James Smithson's bequest and background, focusing on his illegitimacy; the Art & Industries Building; the National Zoo; the International Exchange Service; the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; wartime activities; and receipt of collections and correspondence. Mentions Smithsonian discoveries that affect everyday people, in particular, the discovery of the Japanese beetle. Expresses displeasure at the architecture of the Smithsonian Institution Building, referring to it as "a cross between an overgrown Hollywood filling station and a very bad German castle."


  • Wetmore, Alexander 1886-
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • National Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian
  • Arts and Industries Building
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.)
  • Spirit of St. Louis (Airplane)
  • Statue of Freedom (Statue)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Includes color photographs of Alexander Wetmore at work, American Indian exhibits in Natural History, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Arts and Industries Building, and dinosaur skeletons in Natural History, by David Robbins.

Contained within

The Saturday Evening Post (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


November 23, 1946


  • Acquisitions
  • Airplanes
  • WW II
  • Architecture
  • Wartime Activities
  • Secretaries
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • SI, Early History
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Buildings
  • Museums--Acquisitions
  • Museum exhibits

Physical description

pp. 24-25, 72, 77, 80, 82

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