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James Smithson, The Scientist Who Started the Smithsonian


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Jun 6, 2005
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James Smithson, The Scientist Who Started the Smithsonian - In Geology. Materials Science. Research News/ Smithsonian Science News/ smithsonianscience.si.edu

"“The Smithsonian Institution”―When most people hear the name, museums, scientific research, even Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the Wright brothers’ plane come to mind. But many don’t know how, or for that matter, who created the Smithsonian. The Institution is now 169 years old, but its true beginning happened 250 years ago with the birth of a seemingly ill-fated boy named James Smithson.

Smithson (c. 1765–1829), the founding donor of the Smithsonian, was an English chemist and mineralogist. He was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, the first Duke of Northumberland, and the wealthy widow Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie. His exact birthday remains a mystery because he was born secretly in Paris, where his mother had gone to hide her pregnancy. He was born James Lewis Macie, but in 1801, after his parents died, he took his father’s last name of Smithson..."


This portrait of Smithson painted by Henri Johns in 1816, is one of the rare images of the philanthropist scientist.