|Smithsonian Museum Video|
The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the promotion and dissemination of knowledge by a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829), who had never visited the United States himself. In Smithson's will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the United States of America for creating an "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, President Andrew Jackson informed Congress of the bequest, which amounted to 100,000 gold sovereigns, or $500,000 U.S. dollars ($9,235,277 in 2005 U.S. dollars after inflation).
"The Nation's Attic," the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, is the world's largest museum complex and research organization. Composed of 17 museums and the National Zoo in metropolitan Washington DC, and two New York facilities, the Smithsonian Institution museums offer visitors a window on its enormous holdings, including in excess of 142 million artifacts. The Smithsonian Institution museum's holdings are so vast that exhibitors display only about 1% or 2% of the collection's holdings at any given time.
The red, nineteenth-century palace of sandstone, commonly referred to as the "Castle," is the national mall's oldest structure, nonetheless it houses the high-tech comprehensive Smithsonian Information Center. Its Great Hall shows a half hour film summarizing the institution for visitors, which runs regularly all day. There are also enormous electronic maps and models depicting the national mall. Extensive interactive exhibits and videos allow tourists to find almost 100 popular destinations, as well as their respective public transportation stops.
The castle makes a good first stop, as you wander through the ten museums on the National Mall. Enter through the gardens, and pay attention to the beautiful entrance hall, which has been restored to its late nineteenth century appearance. It was originally designed to display exhibits at a child's eye level. The ceiling, gilded with gold, depicts a lush arbor of grapes with royally plumed birds, and cobalt sky peeping through trelliswork. There is a coffee kiosk outside near the Enid A. Haupt Garden, where you can settle on a bench and plan your day. On Sundays, start to your Washington DC Smithsonian adventure at the Castle, which serves a fabulous brunch from 11 am until 2pm in the Commons Room.
Since it is impossible to visit all of the fifteen fascinating museums in a single visit, it's best to pick a few, and save the rest for your next trip. Most of the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC are located within a one-mile region between Independence and Constitution Avenues downtown. Admission is free for all Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, so walk at leisure but wear comfortable shoes. The easiest way to enjoy getting to the museums on the National Mall is to avoid parking if possible. Take a cab, or better, experience Washington's Metrorail, which has several stops of use, the most central being the one bearing the name Smithsonian. Who knows what you will enjoy most, but everyone finds something interesting at the Washington DC Smithsonian. An ongoing celebration of our national and world cultures, the Smithsonian institute in Washington DC represents for Americans the treasured icons of our past, the vibrant art of our present, and the scientific promise of our future.