James Smithson: Who Was the Guy Who Gave Us the Smithsonian Institution?

By | June 19, 2019

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A view of the Smithsonian Institution building in a field of daisies in Washington DC, circa 1860s. Source: (Photo by Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. is known as “America’s attic.” Here, many of the most important artifacts and memorabilia for the country’s history are housed and displayed for the public to enjoy. Since 1846, the massive museum has been one of the most revered places in the United States. But, what do you know about the man for whom the Smithsonian is named? Let’s learn about James Smithson and how “America’s attic” came to bear his name.

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James Smithson was born in France but took British citizenship. Source: (factrepublic.com)

Smithson wasn’t his Birth Name

James Smithson was born sometime at the end of 1765. His birth was not recorded because he was born to an unwed mother who kept her pregnancy and birth a secret. His mother, Elizabeth Hungerford Macie, gave him the name James Lewis Macie. Later, she told her son that is father was Hugh Smithson, the First Duke of Northumberland. As a teen, he became a British citizen and officially changed his name to James Smithson.