Here’s an unusual piece of American history that illustrates the power of philanthropy and what happens when money is used for the purpose it was intended. Imagine what James Smithson must think if he can view Smithsonian Castle and all the other buildings that line the Mall in Washington D.C.? Possibly, he’s pleased as punch.
Smithson, an illegitimate Englishman who died in 1829, left between $50 to $100 million dollars to the United States, a country he had never visited. His desire was for his money to be used “‘for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.’”
If the slew of buildings that includes the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, and the African Art Museum isn’t an indication of what can happen when one person’s generosity is put to good use, I don’t know what is. Of course, Smithson’s money wasn’t enough to create all of the Smithsonian’s building, but still, consider what what can happen when there’s a mighty good idea that has a healthy start.
In this article that first appeared in the Washington Post, Moira E. McLaughlin covers a bit of the history of Smithson’s gift that consisted of 105 bags of gold. She also points out the significance of Smithsonian Castle, the Smithsonian’s first building that is now used for the Smithsonian’s administrative offices and information center. According to McLaughlin, the information center is a perfect place to begin a visit to the Smithsonian. It can help you orient the rest of your time there.
I’ve been to the Smithsonian several times and have never visited The Castle. Next time I’m in D.C., this is my first stop. In case no one has thanked you properly James Smithson,THANKS a million times over. Your gift was truly splendid.