Smithsonian Building Cornerstone Laid




Date: May 1, 1847


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  • In a ceremony attended by six to seven thousand people, the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution Building is laid. The occasion is regarded in Washington as a public holiday. Festivities include a mile-long procession from City Hall at Judiciary Square to the White House and then via Pennsylvania Avenue to the south side of the site. The procession from the White House to the building site was led by President James K. Polk and his cabinet, Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, and Smithsonian Chancellor and Vice President George Mifflin Dallas. They are followed by the Smithsonian Board of Regents, diplomats, local officials and the military.
  • William Beverly Randolph had been appointed Grand Marshall of the event by the Board of Regents. Masonic delegations were sent from Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Marine Band, the National Brass Band, and Garcia's Band, from Alexandria, play music. The gavel used and the apron worn by the Masonic Grand Master of the District of Columbia, B. B. French, are the same as those used by George Washington during the laying of the cornerstone at the Capitol. The inscription on the cornerstone reads: "On the 1st day of May, 1847, was laid, in the city of Washington, this foundation-stone of a building to be appropriated for the Smithsonian Institution; founded by bequest of James Smithson, of Great Britain."


  • French, Benjamin B (Benjamin Brown) 1800-1870
  • Randolph, William Beverley 1789-1868
  • Washington, George 1732-1799
  • Dallas, George Mifflin 1792-1864
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Polk, James K (James Knox) 1795-1849
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • United States President (1845-1849 : Polk)
  • Board of Regents
  • United States Marine Band
  • National Brass Band


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Image is architectural drawing of the north facade by architect James Renwick, 1846, Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2012-1145.
  • Goode, George Brown, ed. The Smithsonian Institution, 1846-1896, The History of Its First Half Century. Washington, D.C.: De Vinne Press, 1897, p. 834.
  • Rathbun, Richard. The United States National Museum: An Account of the Buildings Occupied by the National Collections. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905, Reprinted from the Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1903, p. 199.
  • Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, showing The operations, expenditures, and condition of the Institution. 30th Cong., 1st Sess., January 6, 1848. S. Rept. 23, p. 132-143.
  • National Intelligencer, April 30, 1847, p. 3, column 5; and May 3, 1847.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry: The Smithsonian Years, January 1847-December 1849, Volume 7, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996, pp. 92-95.

Contact information

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


May 1, 1847


  • Holidays
  • Architecture
  • Freemasons
  • Parades
  • Special events
  • Rites and Ceremonies
  • Major Events in Smithsonian History
  • Buildings
  • Freemasonry--Rituals

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