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James Smithson

Scientist / Philanthropist

Born: 1765
Died: 27 June 1829
Birthplace: Paris, France
Best known as: The man whose money founded the Smithsonian Institution

Name at birth: James Lewis Macie

James Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who left his fortune to the United States to found what became the Smithsonian Institution. Smithson was born James Lewis (or Louis) Macie, the son of Elizabeth Macie and Hugh Smithson, Duke of Northumberland. He was educated in England and established himself in the fields of mineralogy and geology. A member of the Royal Society of London, Smithson published dozens of scientific papers, including new work on zinc ores that ultimately led to zinc carbonate being named smithsonite. Smithson had an inherited fortune, and in 1826 he drew up a will that stipulated that if his heir, nephew Henry James Hungerford, died without any heirs, the estate would go to the U.S. to establish an institution in Washington, D.C. dedicated to "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Smithson died three years later in Genoa, Italy; Hungerford died without heirs in 1835. After a decade of legal entanglements and congressional arguments, the Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846.

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