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Smithsonian Institution Castle: James Smithson

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Uploaded on Nov 2, 2009

James Smithson's legacy to the United States created the world's largest museum and research complex, yet he never visited this country during his lifetime. Almost as mysterious as his motives and intentions for the institution he founded was the man himself. The story of James Smithson's life is sketchy, but it is known that he was born in 1765, the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Macie. After he earned a master of arts degree from Pembroke College, Oxford, he embarked on a life of scientific research, ultimately publishing 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy. His topics ranged from a chemical analysis of calamines to an improved method of making coffee. James Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, in 1829, and the wealth he had inherited from his mother passed to his nephew. Because his nephew died without heirs, the estate went to the U.S. government, as Smithson had specified in his will. When the Genoa cemetery was to be relocated in 1904, Alexander Graham Bell, then a Regent of the Smithsonian, traveled to Italy to retrieve Smithson's remains and bring them here to rest, in a room specially reconfigured in the building where the Smithsonian Institution had its beginning.

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