American Culture’s Unlikely Debt to a British Scientist

A fortuitous influx of cash launched the Smithsonian’s first art collection. In 1835, through an unlikely turn of events, the young United States became the beneficiary of the estate of one James Smithson, a British scientist of considerable means who had never set foot on American soil. The gift of $500,000 (about $12 million today)[…]

Enslaved Labor and Building the Smithsonian: Reading the Stones

Examining evidence that enslaved persons were involved in the construction of the original Smithsonian Building in Washington, D.C. Many enslaved workers who labored at the Maryland quarry from which all the building’s “freestone” or sandstone blocks were obtained had roots in enslaved families owned by Martha Custis Washington at Mt. Vernon. And what erudition. He[…]