Happy 166th Birthday to Us!

The Smithsonian Institution celebrates 166 years since it was signed into existence by President James K. Polk

three-cent stamp
What do you get for an institution that has everything? A three-cent stamp! 1946 Smithsonian Archives

It was just 166 short years ago that President James K. Polk signed into law a bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution. Founded at the bequest of the British mineralogist and chemist James Smithson, the Smithsonian was created for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” and we’ve been at it ever since. Over the years, the Institution has grown to 19 museums and the National Zoo. Here’s a look at how it got there:

Happy 166th Birthday to Us!
View of the north facade of the Castle, circa 1860. Smithsonian Archives
Happy 166th Birthday to Us!
These two American bison called the Castle’s South Yard home. Circa 1886-1889 Smithsonian Archives
Happy 166th Birthday to Us!
Artist Charles Hoover found artistic inspiration in the Smithsonian’s picturesque setting. Circa 1933-1943 Smithsonian Archives
Happy 166th Birthday to Us!
A crowd gathers to watch the installation of Secretary Adams in 1984 Photo by Jeff Tinsley, Smithsonian Archives
Happy 166th Birthday to Us!
And a view of the Castle as it looks now Photo by Eric Long, 2012