The Smithsonian dominates our national cultural consciousness. It is "our nation's attic," and "a triumphant expression of the American spirit and the American Dream," (1846, 9). It is history, botany, technology, zoology, minerology, biology, astronomy, chemistry, art, design, engineering, culture, race, decoration, military, painting, sculpture, pop culture, science, radiation biology, and performance. It is national and international. It's international scope further serves our national concern. "It is a proud presentation of the extraordinary heritage of the American people," (1846, 9).

How can it be that the institution recording and defining our American culture was initiated by an Englishman? How can it be that this Englishman was illegitimate, eccentric, and a slightly better than mediocre scientist? What influence does this have on the historical and current role of the Smithsonian Institution in the United States? These questions can be answered, in part, through this examination of the birth of the Smithsonian Institution. It is a birth not as an organized, ideological process, but an infusion and a legislative process of compromise, accident, and whim.




Courtney S. Danforth