Great Museums of the World – The Smithsonian Institution

With a collection containing over 136 million items the Smithsonian Institution is without doubt the greatest curator of items and artefacts in the world. The collection is so big that it is housed in 19 separate museums, most of which are located in Washington D.C., but so vast is its collection and number of buildings that it also employs its own police force to protect visitors, staff and property.

The Smithsonian collection is not just concerned with inanimate objects, but also includes a zoo containing over 2,000 animals comprised of over 400 species housed in two separate facilities, within its portfolio.

The Smithsonian Institute was actually founded thanks to a bequest from the British scientist James Smithson with the aim of increasing the diffusion of knowledge. This esteemed institution, which has had an incalculable benefit to American understanding and knowledge, is the result of largesse from a person who never actually visited America.

The Smithsonian’s collections are vast indeed, and include: The African American History and Culture Museum; the African Art Museum; the Air and Space Museum; the Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center; the American Art Museum; the American History Museum; the American Indian Museum; The American Indian Museum Heye Center; the Anacostia Community Museum; the Art and Industries Building; the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum; the Freer Gallery of Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Zoo; the Natural History Museum; the Portrait Gallery; the Postal Museum; the Renwick Gallery; the Sackler Gallery; and the headquarters at the Smithsonian Institution Building called The Castle.

Many of the items on display are simply phenomenal. For instance, the Air and Space Museum contains the 1903 Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, the first privately-built aircraft to enter space and return, the Apollo 11 command module and a Hubble Space Telescope test vehicle.

The Museum of American History contains exhibits as diverse as the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem; Washington’s uniform; Jefferson’s lap desk; and Dorothy’s ruby slippers as worn by Judy Garland in the film The Wizard of Oz.

The Natural History Museum contains a gallery devoted to Ancient Egypt and their methods of mummification; a full-sized stuffed African Elephant and the actual capsule that was used to rescue the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for two months in 2010.

The Smithsonian Institute museums and zoos are packed with so many artefacts and include so much information that there is something to interest anyone. They do truly live up to James Smithson’s ideal for the Institute to increase man’s knowledge of both the natural and the human world.

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