Since our country was founded many people around the world dreamed of visiting America or moving here to make a better life. Today American celebrates one man who dreamed of this nation…a nation he never visited.
Jacques-Louis Macie was an illegitimate child of an English Duke, secretly born in Paris in 1765. He eventually was schooled in England and became a mineralogist and a chemist. In 1787, age 22, he changes his surname to Smithson, his father’s pre-married surname. He used James, instead of Jacques-Louis. He turned out numerous papers in geology, chemistry and mineralogy. He discovered that calamine was an actual mineral in 1802, which at that time overturned popular scientific opinion. The scientific community honored him by naming this mineral Smithsonite. Cool!
But, that’s only where his story begins and why we should thank him for his tremendous gift. No…not the zinc carbonite finding, but his vision of America.
He loved America, read of its founding, its constitution and its promise. As he neared the end of his life he wrote a strange will. When James died in 1829, he left his estate to his only living relative, a nephew. The will of James Smithson stated if his nephew died with no children, then the entirety of the estate would go to the United States of America, a place he had never visited. The money was to be used for the “founding of an educational institution in Washington D.C.
In 1835, the nephew, Henry James Hungerford, died with no children as heirs.
Word was received in Washington that this estate was being donated and in 1836, Congress authorized acceptance of the gift. President Andrew Jackson sent a delegation to go to England and escort the donation back to America. They had eleven boxes to tote. There was eight shillings and seven pence and some gold sovereigns
Actually there was about 105,000 gold sovereigns. Total value was $500,000. That half of a million dollars would be worth twelve million in today’s dollars.
Congress spent ten years deciding what to do with the money. Not bad. That’s about three times faster than our Congress works today. There were considerations of starting a university, a library or possibly an astronomical observatory. All worthwhile creations.
Finally Congress determined to build a museum, a library and a program of research publication, and collection in the sciences, art and history.
On this day in history, August 10, 1846, President James Polk signed into law the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution.
Thanks to Jacques-Louis Macri’s (James Smithson) vision of America, a place he never visited.