James Smithson

James Smithson

Infobox Scientist
name = James Smithson
box_width = 26em

image_width =
caption = An 1816 portrait of Smithson by Henri-Joseph Johns, now in the National Portrait Gallery
of the Smithsonian Institution
birth_date = 1765
birth_place = Paris, France
death_date = Death date and age|1829|6|27|1765|1|1
death_place = Genoa, Liguria, Italy
residence =
citizenship =
nationality = flagicon|UK British
ethnicity =
field = Mineralogy and chemistry
work_institutions =
alma_mater = Pembroke College, University of Oxford
doctoral_advisor =
doctoral_students =
known_for = Proving zinc carbonates are true carbonate minerals and not zinc oxides (1802); leaving a bequest in his will to the USA which was used to initially fund the Smithsonian Institution
author_abbrev_bot =
author_abbrev_zoo =
prizes = Fellow of the Royal Society (1787)
religion =
footnotes =

:"For related terms, see Smithsonian (disambiguation)."

James Smithson, F.R.S., M.A. (1765 – June 27, 1829) was a British mineralogist and chemist noted for having left a bequest in his will to the United States of America, which was used to initially fund the Smithsonian Institution.


Not much detail is known about the life of James Smithson, as a fire which destroyed the Smithsonian Institution Building in 1865 took with it Smithson's scientific collections, notebooks, diaries and correspondence.cite news|last=Colquhoun|first=Kate|title=A Very British Pioneer (review of Heather Ewing's "The Lost World of James Smithson")|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2007/05/31/boewi26.xml|publisher=The Telegraph (Review)|date=2007-05-26] Only the 213 volumes comprising his personal library and some personal writings survived.cite web|title=Who was James Smithson? : A Man of Science|url=http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/who_04.html|publisher=Smithsonian Institution|accessdate=2007-06-18] What is known is that Smithson was an illegitimate and unacknowledged son of the English landowner, the highly regarded and accomplished Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Bt. of Stanwick, north Yorkshire, who later changed his name to Hugh Percy, and became the 1st Duke of Northumberland, K.G., by a mistress, Elizabeth Hungerford Keate. He was born in 1765 in Paris, France.

Elizabeth Keate was the daughter of John Keate, an uncle of George Keate (1729–1797), who was elected to the Royal Society in 1766. Elizabeth was the widow of John Macie of Weston, near Bath, Somerset, and so the young Smithson was originally known as "Jacques Louis Macie". His mother later married John Marshe Dickinson, a troubled son of a former Lord Mayor of the City of London and Member of Parliament. During this marriage she had another son; however, the 1st Duke of Northumberland rather than Dickinson is also thought to have been the father of this second son.

Smithson commenced undergraduate studies at Pembroke College, |accessdate=2007-06-18]

On 19 April 1787, at the age of just 22 years, he was elected (under the name "James Lewis Macie") the youngest fellow of the Royal Society. When his mother died in 1800, he and his brother inherited a sizable estate. Around 1802 he changed his surname from "Macie" to his father's surname "Smithson". [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Persons&dsqPos=1&dsqSearch=(((text)='James')AND((text)='Smithson')) James Smithson on the Royal Society website] . Retrieved on 18 June 2007.]

Smithson died on 27 June 1829 in the Italian city of Genoa, and his body was interred in the English cemetery of San Benigno there. In 1904, Alexander Graham Bell, at that time Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, brought Smithson's remains from Genoa to Washington, D.C., where they were reinterred in a tomb at the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle). [cite web|title=Who was James Smithson? : Smithson Leaves Bequest to the United States|url=http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/who_05.html|publisher=Smithsonian Institution|accessdate=2007-06-18] His sarcophagus incorrectly states his age at his death – it says 75; he was in fact only 64.

cientific career

Smithson dedicated his life to investigating the natural world, and visited Florence, Paris, Saxony, and the Swiss Alps to find crystals and minerals on which he could perform experiments – including diluting, grinding, igniting, and even chewing and sniffing them – to discover and classify their elemental properties. In 1802, Smithson proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals and not zinc oxides, as was previously thought. [See citation|last=Smithson|first=James|title=A Chemical Analysis of Some Calamines|url=http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/calamine.html|journal=Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London|volume-Pt. I|date=1803.] One, zinc spar (ZnCO3), a type of zinc ore, was renamed smithsonite posthumously in Smithson's honour in 1832 by a French scientist. Smithsonite was a principal source of zinc until the 1880s. Smithson also invented the term "silicate".

Smithson published at least 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy in scientific journals. His topics included the chemical content of a lady's teardrop, the crystalline form of ice, and an improved method of making coffee. He was acquainted with leading scientists of his day, including French mathematician, physicist and astronomer François Arago; Sir Joseph Banks; Henry Cavendish; Scottish geologist James Hutton; Irish chemist Richard Kirwan; Antoine Lavoisier and Joseph Priestley. [cite web|title=Who was James Smithson? : A World of Scientific Ideals|url=http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/who_03.html|publisher=Smithsonian Institution|accessdate=2007-06-18]

The Smithsonian connection

A shrewd investor, Smithson amassed a fortune in his lifetime. On his death, Smithson's will left his fortune to his nephew, Henry James Dickinson, son of his brother who had died in 1820. Smithson had had him change his name to Hungerford in the mid-1820s and in the will stipulated that if that nephew died without legitimate or illegitimate children, the money should go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." [A draft version of a transcript of Smithson's 1826 will may be viewed at the [http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/will.htm Smithsonian Institution's website] (retrieved on 18 June 2007).]

The nephew, Henry Hungerford (the "soi disant" Baron Eunice de la Batut), died without heirs in 1835, and Smithson's bequest was accepted in 1836 by the United States Congress. A lawsuit (in Britain) contesting the will was decided in favour of the U.S. in 1838 and 11 boxes containing 104,960 gold sovereigns were shipped to Philadelphia and minted into dollar coinage worth $508,318. There was a good deal of controversy about how the purposes of the bequest could be fulfilled, and it was not until 1846 that the Smithsonian Institution was founded.

Smithson had never been to the United States, and the motive for the specific bequest is unknown. There is an unsourced tradition within the (existing) Percy family that it was to found an institution that would last longer than his father's dynasty. It is also speculated that he was disinclined towards the British social system (perhaps because he was frustrated by being not only a younger but an unacknowledged son of a Duke) and liked the United States' revolutionary and, possibly to him, fresher spirit.Fact|date=February 2007 He had also lived in France for a while during their revolution.Fact|date=February 2007

On 18 September 1965, in the year of the bicentenary of Smithson's birth, the Smithsonian Institution awarded to the Royal Society a 14-ct. gold medal bearing a left-facing bust of Smithson. [Reference no. M/215 in the Royal Society's collection: see the [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqSearch=(RefNo='M/215') Royal Society's website] , retrieved on 18 June 2007.]




*cite web|title=Who was James Smithson?|url=http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/who_01.html|publisher=Smithsonian Institution|accessdate=2005-01-27
*cite web|title=Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Record Unit 7000 : James Smithson Collection, 1764–1983|url=http://siarchives.si.edu/findingaids/faru7000.htm|publisher=Smithsonian Institution Archives|date=2006-06-05|accessdate=2007-06-19
*cite news|last=Colquhoun|first=Kate|title=A Very British Pioneer (review of Heather Ewing's "The Lost World of James Smithson")|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2007/05/31/boewi26.xml|publisher=The Telegraph (Review)|date=2007-05-26
* [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Persons&dsqPos=1&dsqSearch=(((text)='James')AND((text)='Smithson')) James Smithson on the Royal Society website] . Retrieved 18 June 2007
*cite web|title=Smithson, James|url=http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9068314/James-Smithson|publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica|accessdate=2007-06-19

Further reading


*cite news|title=How a Mysterious Englishman's Fortune Founded the Smithsonian|url=http://edition.cnn.com/2000/STYLE/arts/05/08/smithsonian.founding.ap|publisher=CNN|date=2000-05-08
*cite web|last=Stamberg|first=Susan|title=The Smithsonian's Photographic History Project : Bringing Light to an American Institution's Photo Collection|url=http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/mar/smithsonian/index.html|publisher=National Public Radio|date=2002-03-07|accessdate=2007-06-19 Refers to a photograph, believed to have been taken by Alexander Graham Bell's wife, of an unidentified man holding the skull of James Smithson on the occasion of Alexander Graham Bell's mission to Genoa, Italy, in 1904 to retrieve Smithson's remains and bring them to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
*cite news|last=Larner|first=Jesse|title=Foreign Motivations : How a Former President and an English Scientist Gave Us the Smithsonian (review of Nina Burleigh's "The Stranger and the Statesman")|url=http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2003/12/21/RVGN53KDCS34.DTL|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|date=2003-12-21


*cite book|last=Bello|first=Mark|coauthors=William Schulz, Madeleine Jacobs & Alvin Rosenfeld (eds.)|title=The Smithsonian Institution, a World of Discovery : An Exploration of Behind-the-Scenes Research in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities|location=Washington, D.C.|publisher=Distributed by Smithsonian Institution Press for Smithsonian Office of Public Affairs|year=1993|isbn=1560983140
*cite book|last=Bolton|first=Henry Carrington|title=The Smithsonian Institution : Its Origin, Growth, and Activities|location=New York, N.Y.|publisher= [s.n.] |year=1896
*cite book|last=Burleigh|first=Nina|title=The Stranger and the Statesman : James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, The Smithsonian|location=New York, N.Y.|publisher=Morrow|year=2003|isbn=0-06-000241-7 (hbk.)
*cite book|last=Ewing|first=Heather|title=The Lost World of James Smithson : Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian|location= [USA] |publisher=Bloomsbury|year=2007|isbn=1596910291 (hbk.)
*cite book|last=Goode|first=George Brown (ed.)|title=The Smithsonian Institution, 1846–1896 : The History of its First Half Century|location=Washington, D.C.|publisher= [s.n.] |year=1897 Reprinted as cite book|last=Goode|first=George Brown (ed.)|title=The Smithsonian Institution, 1846–1896|location=New York, N.Y.|publisher=Arno Press|year=1980|isbn=0405125844
*cite book|last=Gurney|first=Gene|title=The Smithsonian Institution, a Picture Story of its Buildings, Exhibits, and Activities|location=New York, N.Y.|publisher=Crown|year= [1964]
*cite book|last=Karp|first=Walter|title=The Smithsonian Institution; an Establishment for the Increase & Diffusion of Knowledge among Men|location= [Washington, D.C.] |publisher=Smithsonian Institution|year= [1965]
*cite book|last=Rhees|first=William Jones (comp. & ed.)|title=The Smithsonian Institution : Documents Relative to its Origin and History, 1835–1889|location=Washington, D.C.|publisher=G.P.O|year=1901 Reprinted as cite book|last=Rhees|first=William Jones (ed.)|title=The Smithsonian Institution, 1835–1899 (2 vols.)|location=New York, N.Y.|publisher=Arno Press|year=1980|isbn=0405125836

External links

* [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Persons&dsqPos=1&dsqSearch=(((text)='James')AND((text)='Smithson')) James Smithson on the Royal Society website]
* [http://www.150.si.edu/smithexb/smittime.htm The Life of James Smithson] , from the website of America's Smithsonian, an exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution
* [http://siarchives.si.edu/history/main_founding.html James Smithson & the Founding of the Smithsonian] , from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
* [http://www.librarything.com/profile/jamessmithson The Library of James Smithson] on LibraryThing, compiled by Smithsonian Institution Libraries
* [http://www.sil.si.edu/digitalcollections/smithsonlibrary/ The Library of James Smithson] from Smithsonian Institution Libraries

NAME = James Smithson
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Jacques Louis Macie; James Lewis Macie, James Louis Macie Smithson
SHORT DESCRIPTION = British mineralogist and chemist who left a bequest in his will to the USA which was used to initially fund the Smithsonian Institution
PLACE OF BIRTH = Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH = 27 June 1829
PLACE OF DEATH = Genoa, Liguria, Italy

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