The Smithsonian is an establishment dedicated to learning and knowledge, with a world-renowned collection of objects and manuscripts.
The Smithsonian is not like other major museums, established to show off the collections of wealthy patrons or as an exercise in national glory. Instead, it is the legacy of a man who was neither American nor visited the country. James Smithson (1765-1829) stipulated that his fortune was to be used for the "increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men" if his nephew died without leaving an heir. With over pre-inflationary $500,000 in the fund, it took Congress nearly a decade to decide how to spend the money and the Smithsonian "Castle" in Washington was only completed in 1855.
Since then, the Smithsonian has become one of the world's leading repositories for historical objects and archives, funded by the US government and private donations. It now has 20 different branches, specialising in everything from ethnic art and objects to aerospace exhibits, and helping to manage the Smithsonian is one of the (very few) official duties of the Vice President of the United States.