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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Smithson's Legacy

Smithson's Gift Endures

The Smithsonian Institution Building (Castle), view from south; National Museum of Natural History wWhat would James Smithson think if he saw today's Smithsonian Institution—the world's largest museum and research complex?

The activities of the Smithsonian Institution 150 years after its founding embody "the increase and diffusion of knowledge" in virtually all the modern interpretations of those words. Millions of sightseers each year enjoy Smithsonian museum exhibitions in Washington and New York, and at the annual Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall in Washington. Now visitors throughout the world have access to the Institution's programs through traveling and online exhibitions. Less visible but just as significant are the Smithsonian's behind-the-scenes studies and investigations at its research institutes, 16 museums, and the National Zoo.



Every year since 1967 hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the activities at the Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife. Pictured below is the Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife, 1995, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with the Smithsonian Building (Castle) at right and the United States Capitol Building in background.

Image shows a crowded National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the Festival of American Folklife, with

In all of its activities, the Smithsonian strives to serve the nation and the world in ways that James Smithson could only have imagined.

Image shows a close up of tents and people at the Festival of American Folklife, with the with the S

The Smithsonian's 150th

Images shows the a bell, made for the Smithsonian Institution's 150th anniversary, being hoisted to On the occasion of the 150th-anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, museums and offices around the Institution cooperated in a year-long celebration. This online presentation is based on the 150th-anniversary exhibition which appeared in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Gallery from June 1996 through January 1997.

On August 10, 1996, the Smithsonian Institution held a gala birthday party on the National Mall to celebrate the 150th-anniversary of the legislation establishing the Institution in 1846. A bell cast for the occasion was hoisted into tower of the Smithsonian Building (Castle) in the opening ceremonies, and the day concluded with a colorful fireworks display on the Castle grounds.

Thank you for viewing the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' online exhibition, From Smithson to Smithsonian: The Birth of an Institution. We hope you enjoyed it.



Red and gold fireworks over the Castle, August 10, 1996