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Smithsonian Fund Stocks

Smithsonian Fund Stocks/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_019imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


After his death in 1829, British scientist James Smithson’s fortune came to the United States to found an institution that would increase knowledge. This bequest of more than $500,000 perplexed politicians: Could the U.S. government legally accept the money? If so, what kind of institution should it build? Congress determined that the United States could accept the bequest in 1836, and the trust was administered by the U.S. Treasury Department. Meanwhile, the Select Committee on the Bequest of James Smithson, chaired by John Quincy Adams, determined what should be done with the windfall. This House record shows how the Treasury used these funds while the select committee worked. The Secretary of the Treasury primarily invested the bequest in the states of Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio, with a rate of interest around six percent. As this record shows, Smithson’s capital temporarily supported the Detroit and Pontiac Railroad Company and canals in Ohio, among other economic and infrastructural projects. In 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was officially created by law.

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