The Strange Career of the Smithsonian Institution

By Joshua D. Rothman – August 10, 2015 for We’re History

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Construction continues on the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo credit: John Sonderman flickr CC

On August 10, 1846, President James K. Polk signed into law an act creating the Smithsonian Institution. Designated originally as an “establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,” the Smithsonian has grown in the nearly 160 years since its founding into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Comprising nineteen museums and galleries, nine research centers, and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian holds 138 million items in its collections, hosts thirty million visitors every year, and is widely acknowledged as one of America’s greatest public treasures and a steward of the historical and scientific legacy of the United States.

But the Smithsonian almost never came into being at all. Involving an unprecedented bequest, a lengthy public debate, and ten years of Congressional bungling and infighting, the origin story of the Smithsonian is a weird and wild one. If it demonstrates that government officials sometimes accomplish important things despite themselves, it also reveals their ability over the long term to craft institutions serving the public good that define who we are as a nation.

When British scientist James Smithson died in 1829, he left the bulk of his substantial estate to his nephew Henry James Hungerford. But Smithson’s will also provided that should Hungerford himself die without children, the entirety of the estate would transfer to the United States for the purpose of establishing an entity to be known as the Smithsonian Institution. The will attracted notice immediately as a curiosity and it became a major news item six years later when Hungerford died childless, putting the contingency clause of Smithson’s will into operation.

President Andrew Jackson received Congressional authorization in 1836 to accept the bequest on behalf of the federal government, and the Smithsonian Institution might have been founded in short order thereafter but for three things. For starters, getting Smithson’s money across the Atlantic and securely setting it aside for its intended purpose entailed overcoming bureaucratic complications, the logistics of nineteenth-century international finance, and inept investment strategies. Soon after formally accepting Smithson’s bequest, President Jackson sent veteran diplomat Richard Rush to England to collect it. But it took Rush two years of legal wrangling to get the British Court of Chancery to recognize the American claim on Smithson’s estate. Rush then sold the properties composing the estate, converted the proceeds of the sales into gold, and sailed back to the United States in 1838 with eleven large boxes containing more than 100,000 sovereign coins, all of which the Treasury melted down.

The entire process finally yielded more than half a million dollars in gold. This was no small sum, roughly approximating the amount then residing in the endowment of Harvard University. But Congress inexplicably instructed the Treasury to invest it all, during the depression that followed the Panic of 1837, in bonds issued by several western states where irresponsible land speculation had helped lead to the depression in the first place. When, perhaps predictably, the state of Arkansas defaulted on its bonds in 1841, most of Smithson’s money disappeared.

A second obstacle to the establishment of the Smithsonian was the peculiar nature of the bequest itself. Smithson’s gift was a befuddling one, and not only because Smithson had never set foot in the United States or even met an American. The challenge presented in administering the terms of Smithson’s will lay in its broad and vague mandate to build an organization that would discover and disseminate human knowledge. In a young country with few national institutions to serve as models for such an undertaking, no one had any idea precisely what that meant. But nearly everyone had an idea about what it ought to mean, which in turn yielded a protracted public conversation over how to carry out Smithson’s vision.

Academics, scientists, politicians, and average citizens alike argued for nearly ten years about the ideal Smithsonian Institution. Some made the case for creating a national university. Others suggested a national museum. Still others floated ideas for a center for scientific research, a national library, or an astronomical observatory. The dispute continued well into the 1840s, and proposals for bills outlining various mandates for the Smithsonian poured into Congress for years.

Still a third impediment to creating the Smithsonian lay in the politics of sovereignty. The fact of Smithson’s British citizenship provoked intense anti-English sentiment from some Americans, but xenophobia was hardly the only issue at play. Battles over the appropriate powers of the federal government were constants in the life of the early republic, and the 1830s was an especially fraught decade for such fights. Even Andrew Jackson, whose devotion to federal supremacy had led him to threaten an invasion of South Carolina when it tried to nullify federal law, insisted that Congress explicitly sanction his receipt of Smithson’s bequest, and for those politicians most devout in their dedication to states’ rights the idea of the Smithsonian was dubious at best. John Calhoun, for example, argued that Congress simply lacked clear constitutional permission to take Smithson’s money.

Calhoun and others also made the case that it called the honor of the nation into question to accept a gift from a private individual at all. It seemed undignified, these politicians claimed, for the United States to receive funds as if it needed to be the object of charity. Moreover, they alluded to the fears that nearly always lingered behind warnings about the federal government aggrandizing its authority. If Congress could take money for the purposes laid out in Smithson’s will, could it then take private money for any purpose? Could it, for example, accept funds designated by a private individual to pay for the costs associated with the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C.? Once Congress opened the door to private individuals using their wealth to influence federal policy, Calhoun and others worried, it could never be closed.

Ultimately, public excitement and political interest in the Smithsonian overwhelmed financial and ideological controversies alike. Massachusetts Representative and former President John Quincy Adams played an especially prominent role in lobbying his colleagues on the Smithsonian’s behalf. Personally dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and scientific advancement, Adams spent years pushing for the Smithsonian, urging Congress to accept Smithson’s bequest and to restore the funds, with interest, that had been lost in the Arkansas bonds debacle. When the Smithsonian finally became a reality, it was crafted as a national trust, with the specifics of its charge determined by a Secretary and a Board of Regents. The majesty of its buildings, the marvels of its collections, and the products of its research have more than fulfilled the promise of Smithson’s gift. And we the people are its beneficiaries.

How Arkansas Almost Killed the Smithsonian

Any traveler with an afternoon to spend in Washington, D.C., knows where to go—to the Capitol Mall, of course, with its monuments flanked by a collection of the nation’s best museums. These museums are part of the Smithsonian Institution, a vast organization comprising nine research centers and 19 museums covering everything from natural history to American history, air and space to modern art. The Smithsonian is also responsible for the National Zoo, where D.C.’s second-most famous family, the giant pandas, reside amid bamboo and camera clicks. The Smithsonian is a critical organization to our national life, founded for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” With more than 137 million objects in its collection, the Smithsonian serves as a kind of “nation’s attic.” These artifacts, including thousands of photographs and sound recordings, document all aspects of American life—the good, the bad, the amazing and the mundane.

All this and the Smithsonian nearly failed to start because of Arkansas.

It started with the curious will of a British scientist named James Smithson. Smithson, despite never having been to the United States, left his fortune for the founding of an educational organization in Washington, D.C., to be called the Smithsonian Institution. Congress accepted the bequest in 1836, seven years after Smithson’s death. Andrew Jackson sent a diplomat to Britain to accept the gift. The diplomat returned to the U.S. in 1838 with 105 sacks of gold coins estimated to be worth nearly $20 million in today’s terms, nearly equal to the entire endowment of Harvard at the time. After a lot of wrangling among members of Congress on what to do with the money, they invested it in U.S. Treasury bonds issued by Arkansas, Illinois and Michigan. Arkansas, then not even a teenager of a state, did what one would expect of a youngster handed several million dollars: The state spent the money and never paid it back. The default nearly crippled the Smithsonian Institution before it started. Thanks to the efforts of former President John Quincy Adams, who was serving as a representative from Massachusetts, Congress replaced the funds lost by Arkansas. The Smithsonian finally became an institution with James Polk’s signature in 1846.

No one seems to know what happened with those bonds, but all indications are that Arkansas never did repay their defaults, at least with money. Soon after the Smithsonian fiasco came the Civil War and other matters to which the state had to attend. But over the decades, bit by bit, Arkansas has been figuratively paying back its debts through contributions to the institution’s collections—cultural, geological and historical. Here are just a handful of the items from Arkansas in the Smithsonian’s collection.


Malvern native Natalie Smith Henry was one of the many artists hired in the New Deal to create public art. “Local Industries,” which hangs in the American Art Museum, is an oil painting Henry completed in preparation for a mural in the Springdale post office. Henry interviewed families in the Springdale area while composing the painting to ensure it was an accurate representation of the local economy.


Several Arkansas quilts from the mid-1800s are in the collection of the American History Museum. One of the most interesting among them is a quilt called “Whig’s Defeat” that was meant to mark the 1844 victory of James Polk over Henry Clay. Who would have known quilts could serve as political symbols?

Native pottery

Arkansas’ pre-Columbus past is rich, as the displays at the American Indian Museums in both New York and Washington, D.C clearly show. At both centers of exhibition, several clay vessels dating to the Late Mississippian period (A.D. 1200-1500) found in eastern Arkansas are on display. Formed in the shape of human bodies and heads, these pots serve as a good indication of what early Arkansas settlers might have looked like.


Arkansas is known for its rich and varied geology, and the Smithsonian’s collection has hundreds of samples of Arkansas rocks and minerals, ranging from bauxite to diamonds. Visitors to the Natural History Museum can see a couple of native Arkansas stones on exhibit in the museum’s rock and gem halls. The most notable of these is a sample of pulaskite, a rock formed by a volcano and collected in … you guessed it: Little Rock.


No “nation’s attic” would be complete without presidential memorabilia, including, of course, mementos from Arkansas’ only president. The Smithsonian has Hillary Clinton’s first inaugural gown in its collection, as well as several other items from her husband’s presidency. Clinton himself was a familiar person to Smithsonian staff. Pamela Hinson, director of institutional history at the Smithsonian, says that “[President Clinton] would jog down the National Mall most mornings with his Secret Service detail and wave hello to us as we were on our way to work.”


The Natural History Museum has one of the largest collections of bird specimens in the world, including many collected in Arkansas. There are Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Warblers—both now extinct or nearly so from habitat loss—collected more than a century ago. In one exhibit hall, you can see what it might have looked like to see parakeets in the trees along the Arkansas River. North America’s only native parakeet, the Carolina Parakeet, was hunted to extinction for making hats that have long since gone out of style.

Meet the men behind the institution

Smithsonian Castle


James Smithson Engraving

James Smithson Engraving, by Heliotype Printing Co, c. 1881, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, MAH 14574 or MAH14574.

On August 10, 1846, the United States Congress passed the legislation (9 Stat. 102) founding the Smithsonian Institution as an establishment dedicated to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge,” and President James K. Polk signed it into law the same day. This legislation was the culmination of over a decade of debate within the Congress, and among the general public, over an unusual bequest. When the English chemist and mineralogist, James Smithson, died in 1829, he left a will stating that if his nephew and sole heir died without heirs, his estate should go to the United States “to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

Congressional Debates

Andrew Jackson's Letter to Congress Regarding the Smithson Bequest

Andrew Jackson’s Letter to Congress Regarding the Smithson Bequest, December 17, 1835, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 2005-33527.

 After Smithson’s nephew died in 1835, the United States was notified of this bequest. President Andrew Jackson asked the US Congress for authorization to pursue the bequest, sparking a controversy between federalists and advocates of states’ rights. Senators John C. Calhoun and William Campbell Preston argued that there was no constitutional authority to create a national institution. However, led by John Quincy Adams, the federalists prevailed, and in 1836, Richard Rush traveled to England to file a claim for the Smithson estate in the British Court of Chancery, then eight hundred cases in arrears. In just two years, Rush won a judgment for the United States, disposed of Smithson’s properties, and converted the proceeds to gold sovereigns. When the estate was delivered to the US Mint in Philadelphia in September 1838, it totaled $508,318.46.

Another decade of debate passed, however, before the Smithsonian was actually established. Congressmen, educators, researchers, social reformers, and the general public all voiced opinions as to what they believed Smithson had meant by “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Initially most Americans assumed that Smithson intended to found a university, so the debates centered on what type of school. Gradually other ideas were introduced—an observatory, a scientific research institute, a national library, a publishing house, or a museum. The Smithsonian’s enabling act was a compromise among these ideas, leaving out only the university.

Act of Organization

Facsimle of the Act to Establish Smithsonian Institution

Facsimle of the Act to Establish Smithsonian Institution, by United States Congress, 1846, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 96-1652 and 96-1653 and 96-1654 and 96-1655 and 96-1656 and 96-1657 and 96-1658 and 96-1659 and 96-1660.

The Smithsonian Institution was created as a federal establishment, not part of the three branches of government, managed by a self-perpetuating Board of Regents. The Smithsonian Regents had to decide how to carry out Smithson’s vague mandate and the broad legislation. Their first act was to build a home for the Institution, a Norman “Castle” designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., located on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Joseph Henry, Secretary (1846–1878)

Joseph Henry Portrait, by Ulke, Henry, 1879, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 10191or AI-10191.

Joseph Henry Portrait, by Ulke, Henry, 1879, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 10191or AI-10191.

The Regents selected as the first Secretary or chief operating officer, Joseph Henry (1797–1878), a distinguished physicist from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, who was an expert on electromagnetic induction. Henry prepared a “Programme of Organization” to define the programs of the new Institution. During his years as Secretary (1846-1878), Henry focused on increasing knowledge through scientific research, and diffusing knowledge through publication of the Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge and through international exchange of publications. He also established a national network of weather observers that led to the founding of the National Weather Service.

The first objects donated to the Institution were scientific apparatus, the gift of Robert Hare of the University of Pennsylvania in 1848. The following year, the Institution purchased its first collection, art, books, and other works collected by Regent George Perkins Marsh. During the Civil War years, programs were curtailed, but the Institution was not affected substantially by the nearby fighting. A fire in the Castle in 1865, caused by a careless workman, destroyed the central portion of the building and many of the early collections. Henry was reluctant to use the Smithson fund for a national library or museum. Thus in 1865, he transferred the art collection to the Library of Congress and Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1866, he transferred the Smithsonian library to the Library of Congress and had the provision for copyright deposit at the Smithsonian repealed from the legislation. Henry accepted natural history collections, as necessary for research, but worried about the costs of maintaining a museum collection and exhibits. Starting in 1858, Congress provided an annual appropriation to the Smithsonian for the care of the national collections.

Spencer Fullerton Baird, Secretary (1878–1887)

National Museum Building Committee, 1880

National Museum Building Committee, 1880, by Unknown, 1880, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 78-10099.

The second Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823–1887), focused his tenure from 1878-1887 on creating a great national museum. As Henry’s assistant since 1850, he had established a natural history collecting network across the country. Baird’s goal was a comprehensive collection of all the natural resources of the continent in the United States National Museum. Based on his knowledge of the natural resources of Russian-America, in 1867 Baird presented persuasive testimony to Congress in favor of the purchase of Alaska. The government’s collection of art works, historical memorabilia, and scientific specimens, housed at the National Institute gallery in the Patent Office Building, was transferred to the Smithsonian as well. Baird prepared all of the government exhibits for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. The Smithsonian exhibits gave the Institution national visibility. At the close of the exposition, Baird convinced most exhibitors to donate their displays to the Smithsonian and persuaded Congress to build a new National Museum Building. Now known as the Arts and Industries Building, its first event was President James A. Garfield’s inaugural ball on March 4, 1881. When the building opened to the public in October of that year, it housed exhibits on natural history and history.

During Baird’s tenure, in 1879, the Bureau of American Ethnology was added to the Smithsonian’s programs. Baird served simultaneously as US Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries (1871-1887), overseeing research on the fishing industry that later led to the creation of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Samuel P. Langley, Secretary (1887–1906)

Secretary Samuel P. Langley, by Dinst, Chine, c. 1905, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 82-3220.

Secretary Samuel P. Langley, by Dinst, Chine, c. 1905, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 82-3220.

During his tenure from 1889 to 1906, the third Secretary, Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834–1906), created the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1890 to facilitate his research on solar phenomena, oversaw the opening of the National Zoological Park in 1891, created a “Children’s Room” in 1901 designed to awaken the curiosity of the young, and secured funding for a new National Museum building. Langley also attempted to design the first flying machine, but his “aerodrome” lacked the aerodynamic features of the Wright Brothers airplane that flew successfully at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

Charles D. Walcott, Secretary (1907–1927)

Charles Doolittle Walcott, by Unknown, 1922, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10626.

Charles Doolittle Walcott, by Unknown, 1922, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 2002-10626.

Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850–1927), paleontologist and director of the United States Geological Survey from 1894 to 1907, succeeded Langley as the fourth Secretary from 1907 to 1927. In 1911, a new museum building, now known as the National Museum of Natural History, opened to house natural history and art collections. The building was closed during World War I to house the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. A National Gallery of Art, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, was formally created in 1920. In 1923 the Freer Gallery of Art also opened, housing industrialist Charles Lang Freer’s collection of Oriental art and the works of James McNeill Whistler.

Charles Greeley Abbot, Secretary (1928-1944)

Dr. Charles G. Abbot with Book, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 42563 or MAH-42563.

Dr. Charles G. Abbot with Book, by Unknown, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 42563 or MAH-42563.

The fifth Secretary, Charles Greeley Abbot (1872-1973), served from 1928 to 1944, through the Great Depression and World War II. During World War II, the national collections were removed to a warehouse near Luray, Virginia, for safekeeping. The Smithsonian housed the Ethnogeographic Board, whose mission was to provide the military with ethnographic and geographic information about little known areas of the world, especially the Pacific.

Alexander Wetmore, Secretary (1944–1952)

Alexander Wetmore, Sixth SI Secretary

Alexander Wetmore, Sixth SI Secretary, by Unknown, 1944, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 82-3138.

After the war from 1945 to 1952, Alexander Wetmore (1886–1978), the sixth Secretary, oversaw a program of exhibits modernization at the National Museum. In 1946, the Canal Zone Biological Area was transferred to the Smithsonian. Now known as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, this research station in the Panama Canal was founded in 1923 to facilitate research on the tropics. The National Museum’s growing aeronautical collection, which included Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, was formally designated the National Air Museum in 1946. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service was inaugurated in 1952 to facilitate exhibits at venues outside the Institution.

Leonard Carmichael, Secretary (1953–1964)

Leonard Carmichael, 7th SI Secretary

Leonard Carmichael, 7th SI Secretary, by Unknown, c. 1955, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 43352 or MAH-43352.

Seventh Secretary Leonard Carmichael (1898–1973), who served from 1953 to 1964, laid the groundwork for a period of growth during the 1950s. Carmichael secured the appropriation for a new museum building for the history collections, which opened in 1964 and is now the National Museum of American History. New wings were added to the Natural History Building, now the National Museum of Natural History, in the 1960s to house additional collections. The Patent Office Building was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1958 to serve as a home for the national art collections. A major capital improvement program was initiated at the National Zoological Park in the 1960s, and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was revitalized and transferred to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1955. After the launching of Sputnik in 1957, the observatory played a major role in the tracking of artificial satellites.

S. Dillon Ripley, Secretary (1964–1984)

S. Dillon Ripley Standing by Duck Pond in Litchfield, Connecticut

S. Dillon Ripley Standing by Duck Pond in Litchfield, Connecticut, by Naltchayan, Harry, April 1969, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, SIA2011-1488 and P65681.

S. Dillon Ripley (1913–2001), eighth Secretary from 1964–1984, oversaw a major expansion in Smithsonian programs. New museums included the Anacostia Museum (1967), now the Anacostia Community Museum; the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, in New York (1968); the Smithsonian American Art Museum (1968); the National Portrait Gallery (1968); the Renwick Gallery (1972); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1974); the National Museum of African Art (1979); the Sackler Gallery (1983); and the International Center (1987). A new building for the National Air and Space Museum opened on July 4, 1976, in celebration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, and the Arts and Industries Building was renovated to recreate the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia of 1876.

New programs included the Office of Fellowships and Grants in 1964, The Smithsonian Associates and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in 1965, Office of Museum Programs in 1966, first Festival of American Folklife in 1967, now the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Conservation Analytical Laboratory in 1969, Smithsonian magazine, Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Archives of American Art in 1970, Smithsonian Marine Station at Link Port in 1971 (now at Fort Pierce), Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in 1974, Office of Telecommunications in 1975, and Office of Horticulture in 1976. Expansions of existing programs included the Fred L. Whipple Observatory in Arizona, housing the Multiple Mirror Telescope, in 1968; the Conservation and Research Center, now the Conservation Biology Institute of the National Zoological Park located in Front Royal, Virginia, in 1975; and the Museum Support Center in 1983 to house collections storage and handling.

Robert McCormick Adams, Secretary (1984–1994)

Secretary Robert McCormick Adams

Secretary Robert McCormick Adams, by Hofmeister, Richard K, 1984, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 84-14656-11A.

From 1984 to 1993, Robert McCormick Adams (1926– ) served as ninth Secretary, presiding over a period of consolidation and renewed emphasis on research. Museums founded during his tenure were the National Museum of the American Indian in 1989, located in both New York and Washington, DC, and the National Postal Museum in 1990. New research programs focused on the role of man in the environment, and included the Biodiversity Program established in 1986 in conjunction with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Man and the Biosphere Program; and the Mpala Research Station established in Kenya in 1992. The National Science Resource Center was established in 1985 in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences to develop pre-college curriculum resources in mathematics and science.

Expansions of existing programs included the Arctic Studies Center established in the National Museum of Natural History in 1988 and a new observatory in Mount Harquehala, Hawaii, in 1991. In 1994, the Commission on the Future of the Smithsonian Institution issued its report, E Pluribus Unum: This Divine Paradox, setting forth its vision for the Smithsonian of the 21st century. As the national museum seen by some twenty-nine million visitors per year, in the 1980s and 1990s Smithsonian exhibits such as The West as America, Science in American Life, and Enola Gay, became the focus for public debates over issues of cultural and historical identity.

I. Michael Heyman, Secretary (1994–1999)

I. Michael Heyman, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1994, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-10188-19.

I. Michael Heyman, by Tinsley, Jeff, 1994, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 94-10188-19.

When the tenth Secretary, I. Michael Heyman (1930– ), took office in 1993, he turned his attention to disseminating information electronically and celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Institution in 1996. Sesquicentennial programs included the largest traveling exhibit ever mounted, America’s Smithsonian, which traveled to twelve cities over a two year period; a major development campaign; and a celebration on the National Mall on August 10, 1996. By its sesquicentennial, the Institution housed over 140 million artifacts and specimens in its sixteen museums. The Smithsonian endowment had grown to some $378 million, part of a net operating budget in 1994 of $421.4 million. A staff of over 6,700 and some 5,200 volunteers carried out its programs in museums and research institutes in Washington, DC, across the continent, and around the world. In 1995, the inauguration of the Smithsonian Institution’s first website made the Institution’s resources and exhibits available worldwide.

Lawrence M. Small, Secretary (2000–2007)

Secretary Small

Secretary Small, by McCrea, Terry G, July 31, 2001, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, 2001-7964.10.

The eleventh Secretary, Lawrence M. Small (1941–), was appointed in 2000 and served until 2007. Significant events in his tenure include the passage of legislation in 2003 to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the opening of the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, and the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

G. Wayne Clough, Secretary (2008–    )

G. Wayne Clough

G. Wayne Clough, by Hansen, Carl C, July 26, 2008, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, Clough_Wayne_Smithsonianthb.

The twelfth Secretary, G. Wayne Clough (1941–  ), a civil engineer and former President of Georgia Institute of Technology, became Secretary in 2008. He initiated the development of a new Strategic Planfor the Institution, and launched a program to digitize the Smithsonian’s resources. He also oversaw several major openings at the Smithsonian, including the reopening of the National Museum of American History, as well as the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins and Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Saturday Night Movie

Ok…so it’s not the Smithsonian, but here’s a little gem from 1997 starring our very own Field Museum.  Here’s a link to the movie Relic, based on the AMAZING series written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (if you ever wondered what I read when I read fiction, this is it).  It’s about a creature lose in the museum…consider yourselves warned.  Enjoy!