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9 Fascinating Facts About The Founder of the Smithsonian Institute

5) The Institute Was Delayed

Smithson died in 1829, but it wasn’t until 6 years later that stateside officials were informed of the bequest after Smithson’s nephew died with no heirs to his name. After his effects and fortune were gathered from England, it took an Act of Congress in 1846 to begin the process of building what would become the foremost science museum in the world. The boxes upon boxes of gold from Smithson’s estate equalled over $500,000 at the time (worth about $15M in today’s money).

6) He Was Passionate About Minerals

Smithson was obsessed with studying minerals, particularly silica, and he regularly collected samples wherever he went.

a list of Smithson's mineral samples circa 1800

List of Smithson’s mineral samples circa 1800. Via/ Smithsonian Institute Archives

7) Part of His Life’s Work Was Destroyed

Smithson’s papers and minerals were destroyed in a huge fire that broke out in the Smithsonian Institute in 1865. The scores of objects and art pieces that were lost in the fire is stunning, but his personal library remains intact.

8) He Has an Element Named After Him

Smithsonite is a zinc carbonate gemstone that can range in color from green to blue to brown. The stone was discovered, named, and classified by Francois Sulpice Beudant 3 years after Smithson had died.

9) His Body Was Moved

His corpse crossed the Atlantic when his body was moved from his first grave in Genoa, Italy, to where it now lies in Washington D.C.

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