Birth of the Smithsonian Institution 

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After a decade of debates, the Smithsonian Institution was established on August 10, 1846.

The story of the Smithsonian begins with British scientist James Smithson, who died in 1829. His will stated that if his nephew died without heirs, his estate should go to the U.S. to create “the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

The U.S. government was notified of this bequest following the death of his nephew in 1835. Senators debated whether they had the authority to create such an institution, but eventually ruled in favor. Representatives traveled to England to appear before the British court and returned to America in 1838 with about $500,000 for the Smithsonian.

U.S. #2779-82 honors the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum which opened in 1993.

However, the debating wasn’t over. Now the national discussion centered around what Smithson meant by “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Some believed this meant a university, while others suspected he wanted to create an observatory, scientific research institute, library, or museum. When it was finally established in August 1846, it included all of these except the university.

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The Smithsonian’s first building, the Castle, was completed in 1855 and included an art gallery, library, chemical laboratory, lecture halls, and museum galleries. Since then, the Smithsonian has opened 18 other museums, galleries, and a zoo. In addition to a variety of art museums, there are two dedicated to aviation and the National Postal Museum, which houses the world’s largest stamp collection.

Click the stamp images above to add this history to your collection.

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