|Lord Selkirk of Douglas, at|
the 2009 dinner.
Lord Selkirk gave the best Board Race Dinner speech I have ever heard (and I have heard many of them), and in it he revealed that his gggg-uncle was James Smithson (Pembroke, Oxford), FRS (c. 1765-June 27, 1829), English chemist and mineralogist.
Smithson gave the money and initial collection of artifacts that established the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., even though Smithson had never been to the United States.
|James Smithson (Pembroke,|
Oxford), founder of
He became an English citizen and went up to Oxford, studying chemicals and rocks. At 22, he changed his surname from Macie to Smithson, his father's pre-marriage surname, living from inheritances from his mother and other relatives.
Smithson traveled extensively throughout Europe publishing papers about his findings. In 1802, he proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, and one such zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.
|Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Balliol, Oxford), gggg-nephew of |
James Smithson MA (Pembroke, Oxford), donor of the
After a decade of debate about how best to spend the money, President James K. Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act.
President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, 8 shillings, and 7 pence, as well as Smithson’s mineral collection,scientific notes, and personal effects.
After the gold was melted down, it added up a fortune, well over $500,000. On August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into law by President Polk. Today, the Smithsonian is composed of 19 museums and galleries including the recently announced National Museum of African American History and Culture, nine research facilities throughout the United States and the world, and the national zoo.
Besides the original Smithsonian Institution Building, popularly known as the “Castle,” visitors to Washington, D.C., tour the National Museum of Natural History, which houses the natural science collections, the National Zoological Park, and the National Portrait Gallery.
The National Museum of American History houses the original Star-Spangled Banner and other artifacts of U.S. history. The National Air and Space Museum has the distinction of being the most visited museum in the world, exhibiting such marvels of aviation and space history as the Wright brothers’ plane and Freedom 7, the space capsule that took the first American into space. John Smithson, the Smithsonian Institution’s great benefactor, is interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building.