Blog Post: 5 objects that James Smithson might be surprised to find in the institution he founded – until he learned their philanthropy stories

Grade Range: 8-12
Resource Type(s): Reference Materials
Date Posted: 3/23/2018

James Smithson might be surprised to learn about some of the objects in the collections at the institution he established. The Englishman bequeathed his fortune to found "at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” He left no further instructions about what he had in mind, but, as a scientist, he likely imagined an institution focused on scientific pursuits. (And indeed the Smithsonian is a leader in scientific research.) Increasing and diffusing knowledge through puppets, theater costumes, and electric guitars—about philanthropy, no less—probably would have surprised him!