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IN the number, variety, and extent of its public institutions Washington is fast assuming a position worthy of the capital city. These institutions are of three kinds,-governmental, city, and those of private origin. Of the first named the Smithsonian Institution is easily chief. The visitor will easily recognize it in the red sandstone building of Norman architecture standing in the Mall south of the Botanical Gardens. It had a singular and romantic origin. In 1829 an English scientist named James Smithson, died in Genoa, Italy, and bequeathed his entire estate "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."
The American government did not learn of this legacy until 1835, when President Jackson in a message informed Congress of its existence. Hon. Richard Rush was at once sent to England to secure it, and in 1838 succeeded after a hard struggle. The estate was shipped in British gold to the United States Mint at Philadelphia, and being recoined there, was found to amount to the sum of $508,318.46, which was at once put aside as a special fund. In 1864 a residuary legacy of $26,210.63 was received. By saving the income of the original fund, investing the interest profitably, etc., an addition of $108,620.37 was made in 1867 to the principal, which was still further increased in 1881 by the sale of certain Virginia stock, so that the permanent fund of the institution now held by the government is $703,000, which yields an interest of $42,180—the annual income of the institution.
At first the members of Congress were greatly puzzled how best to apply this fund " for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Many theorists came forward with their projects; at last, in August, 1846, a bill was passed formulating a pları which was largely a compromise between conflicting theories.
That plan in its general scope was to initiate and prosecute original methods of abstruse research especially in lines not occupied by other organizations. First, by “stimulating scientific inquiry, initiating and developing interest in various branches of knowledge, calling forth the latent energy of the nation and of individuals, directing it into profitable channels, publishing to the world new discoveries, and bringing about an interchange of thought between scientists everywhere ; and second, the establishing at Washington of (1) an immense collection of books unique in character, and found nowhere else to so great an extent, viz., the transactions of learned societies and the records of discovery and invention, and (2) of an unrivalled national museum of objects of nature and art, with special reference to the illustration of the animal, vegetable, mineral, and industrial resources of the continent of North America.”
To learn how admirably this plan has been carried out one has only to stroll through its own Museum of Natural History, through the National Museum
adjoining, with its inultitudinous objects and relics of historical, ethnological, and industrial interest, study its collection of one hundred thousand rare and valuable books deposited in the Congressional Library, and examine its three series of portly quarto and octavo volumes known collectively as “ The Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge."
This success is due not a little to its managers, the “ Board of Regents." This body is composed of fourteen persons—the Vice-President, the Chief-Justice, three Senators, three Representatives, and six persons elected by Congress, no two being chosen from the same State. Many of the most eminent men of the United States have been members of this board. The most eminent for his services to the Institution was Professor Joseph Henry of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), who was elected its secretary and chief executive officer in 1846, and discharged the duties of that office with rare ability and success until his death in 1878.
There is also an honorary board, “ The Establishment,” composed of the President and Vice-President of the United States, members of the Cabinet, the Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Commissioner of Patents, which visits the institution annually, and has advisory powers.
The Smithsonian building is in itself a pleasing study. It is built of the lilac-gray freestone found in the new red sandstone formation of the Potomac, in the old Romanesque style of architecture current in Normandy in the twelfth century, when the rounded style was about merging into the early Gothic. The entire length of the building from east to west is 447 feet, and its greatest breadth 160 feet. There are nine towers, the highest rising 150 feet. The corner-stone of the building was laid on the first of May, 1847, and it was completed in 1855.
The National Museum, to which reference has been made, stands on the Smithsonian grounds, and
is a part of that institution. Its noble edifice, built of brick in variegated courses, covers two and one half acres, and was completed in 1876. Included in its immense collection are the art treasures presented to the United States by the nations which exhibited at the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the Washington relics, the swords and other gifts presented to General Grant at various times, and other mementos of national heroes.
Just east of the National Museum is the new Army and Navy Medical Museum, which is of interest chiefly to physicians and surgeons; and a short distance to the north, through the same great public reservation—the Mall,—the Botanical Gardens. These grounds comprise ten acres, beautifully laid out, and the large conservatory is filled with the rarest plants and flowers from all parts of the world.
Another government institution of national reputation is the Naval Observatory, whose spacious grounds, of some twenty acres, may be found at the foot of Twenty-fourth Street, bordering on the Potomac. It was founded by government in 1842 for the prosecution of scientific and astronomical and meteorological researches. It has a library of six thousand volumes, chiefly of meteorological and astronomical discoveries and researches ; a chronometer room, where all the chronometers used in the navy are tested, and whence at noon daily the exact time is telegraphed over the country; and the famous equatorial telescope, made by Alvin Clark & Sons, of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, in 1873, the largest in the world. This instrument is 32 feet in