Smithson to SmithsonianThe Birth of an Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is celebrating 175 years of the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Join us in exploring our history. What can we learn from looking back? How might the stories of the past put our present in a new light?"

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The web version of From Smithson to Smithsonian: The Birth of an Institution was adapted from an exhibition that appeared from July 1996 to January 1997 in the Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of American History. It was one of the official projects that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the 1846 founding of the Smithsonian Institution. The gallery exhibition was supported by the 150th-Anniversary Committee and the Smithsonian Women's Committee. The digital version was supported in part by the Smithsonian's Educational Outreach Fund.

Both the gallery exhibition and this digital version were a collaborative effort of the Smithsonian Libraries, the Smithsonian Institution Archives (including the Joseph Henry Papers), and the Architectural History and Historic Preservation Division (now Smithsonian Preservation). Guest curators are Pamela M. Henson, lead curator, Cynthia Field, Marc Rothenberg, Richard Stamm, and Lynn Wojcik.

Staff of the Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central (now Smithsonian Exhibits) designed, edited and produced the gallery exhibition. The Smithsonian Office of Imaging, Printing and Photographic Services assisted with photography for the gallery exhibition and provided additional services for the digital version. Frances Kuo, intern at the Smithsonian Libraries from Cornell University, keyed in the documents, and Joan Horn provided proofreading services. Michael Hendron is the pianist for the music to the "Smithsonian Polka" (1855).

Alan Smigielski, Smithsonian Office of Education (now Smithsonian Education), prepared the lesson plans.

WizardNet Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia designed and produced the digital version.

Smithsonian Libraries' staff who worked on this project were Marcia Adams, William E. Baxter, Laudine Creighton, Tom Garnett, Anne Gifford, Nancy E. Gwinn, Martin R. Kalfatovic, Nancy L. Matthews, and Kari Richardson.


The Smithsonian Libraries thanks the following organizations which granted permission to use images of objects in their collections in this digital exhibition:

  • National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. 
  • National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. 
  • National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution,Washington, D. C. 
  • The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. 
  • Office of Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D. C. 
  • Smithsonian Institution Castle Collection, Washington, D. C.
  • Antioch College, Antiochiana Collection, Yellow Springs, Ohio 
  • Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois 
  • Columbia University in the City of New York, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, New York 
  • The George Washington University Special Collections, Washington, D.C. 
  • Georgetown University Library, Washington, D.C. 
  • Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts 
  • Library of Congress, Squier Collection, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C. 
  • The Mariner's Museum, Newport News, Virginia 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning, Cambridge, Massachusetts 
  • National Archives, Washington, D.C. 
  • Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, Providence, Rhode Island 
  • Rothschild Archive, London, England 
  • Keeper of the Archives, University Archives, University of Oxford, Oxford, England 
  • University of Virginia Library, Special Collections Department, Charlottesville, Virginia 
  • Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts 
  • Yale University, Beineke Library, New Haven, Connecticut