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Statement by the President Marking the Centennial of the Smithsonian Institution

August 10, 1946

ON AUGUST 10, 1846, James K. Polk, eleventh President of the United States, put his signature on the Act of Congress establishing the Smithsonian Institution. Today, August 10, 1946, we celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of this venerable organization that is an American tradition.

As Presiding Officer of the Institution, it is fitting that I, as President of the United States, should publicly take cognizance of this occasion.

When James Smithson, an English chemist and mineralogist died in 1829, it was found that he had left his fortune to the United States to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men. When Congress was notified of the unusual bequest, there arose a storm of debate, at times highly acrimonious, as to what to do with the gift. But finally, after some eight years of discussion, sane counsel prevailed, the bequest was accepted, and the Smithsonian Institution was formally established under a broad definition of its proper functions.

The Act of foundation provides that the Smithsonian Establishment shall consist of the President, the Vice President, and the Chief Justice of the United States, together with the heads of the Executive Departments. The managing body of the Institution is the Board of Regents, composed of the Vice President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the United States, ex officio, three Senators, three Representatives, and six eminent citizens, appointed by joint resolution of Congress. The executive officer directly in charge of the Institution's activities is the Secretary, chosen by the Board. There have been six eminent Secretaries: Joseph Henry, physicist; Spencer Fullerton Baird, biologist; Samuel Pierpont Langley, astronomer and pioneer in aeronautics; Charles Donlittle Walcott, geologist and paleontologist; Charles Greeley Abbot, astrophysicist; and the present Secretary, Alexander Wetmore, biologist.

It is hardly necessary to state that this is the age of science--newspaper headlines remind us of this every day. Atomic power, jet propulsion, television, transmutation of elements, metals from sea water, penicillin-all these and many more present-day marvels trace back invariably to basic scientific investigation. In view of the more spectacular nature of recent discoveries in physics, chemistry, and medicine, and their adaptability to prompt economic application, we are likely to lose sight of the equal importance to mankind of research in such other sciences as anthropology, biology and geology--sciences with which the Smithsonian Institution has been particularly concerned. Here, too, the steady progress made during the past hundred years, has likewise contributed greatly to man's welfare, through a better knowledge and hence a fuller control of his environment, and understanding without which our present high hopes and plans for a united and peaceful world would have an even more difficult road to travel.

For a full century the Smithsonian Institution has been a world center for the promotion of science, art, and other cultural activities. Congratulations are in order upon the Smithsonian's record in the advancement of science and culture during a most important century in the history of mankind, but this should be not merely a time for counting laurels. Rather it should be a time for further consideration of the ideals of the founder, James Smithson, and a renewal of the Institution's zeal in the increase of the sum total of man's knowledge. The Smithsonian should continue to strive toward the end that man should not only know better his earthly abode, but should acquire the means of knowing himself better. Such studies are of vital significance in our present efforts to build a better world order, and to break the cycle of recurring wars of ever-increasing destructiveness.

On this one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, may we accord all honor to the founder, James Smithson, for his lofty and farseeing ideals. May the next one hundred years bring even more glory to the name of the Institution and to that of its founder.